Does Carol Bartz disprove or confirm the glass ceiling theory?

Carol Bartz

Carol Bartz

The appointment of Carol Bartz replacing Larry Page as head of Yahoo has provided leadership headlines. Do the stories confirm the view that despite her success, prejudices against female executives still remain widely intact?

An article by the Economist on the appointment of Carol Bartz [January 17th 2009] prompted one irate reader to object of the double standards applied to male and female executives. The Economist painted a picture of someone driven by insecurities of early maternal bereavement who developed excessive discipline and who rejected notions of work life balance. For good measure the article added that at 60, she was “strikingly old” to lead an internet company.

A sympathetic and informative piece in Forbes by Carol Hymowitz

outlined evidence of her leadership capabilities at her previous role at Autodesk and makes the point that Bartz is one of

.. still just 23 woman at the helm of the nation’s 1,000 largest companies. Besides Bartz, only Paula Roseput Reynolds has been at the helm of two public companies–AGL and Safeco.

Hymowitz contrasts this with the frequency with which ousted male CEOs are hired into other big leadership roles. Her story continued:

[Bartz] was CEO at Autodesk for 14 years, much longer than most chief executives, whose median tenure is just five years, [where she] quickly imposed a more traditional management structure, with schedules for product launches and regular performance reviews. While doing this, she also coped with breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with just days after joining Autodesk Afraid to tell anyone that she had a “female disease,” she took off just a month from work after having a radical mastectomy, instead of the prescribed six to eight weeks.

During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s when Autodesk, many of her employees were suddenly being wooed to dot-com start-ups with the promise that they’d become millionaires. She convinced her best talent to stay put but also realized the Internet was radically altering business–and Autodesk had to adapt and learn to use the network to design, manufacture and market products differently.
As a business leader, Bartz also is known as someone who doesn’t hold grudges and is willing to change her mind. At one point, she fired Carl Bass, the company’s technical wizard at the time, over strategic disagreements. She quickly realized this was a mistake, hired him back a few months later and eventually named him her successor.
Bartz admitted she wasn’t ready to retire when she handed over the CEO spot to Bass in May 2006. “I cried my eyes out,” she said in an interview then. But she also knew Bass was getting offers elsewhere and she concluded that stepping aside was the right thing to do instead of spending years grooming another successor. “It’s very good to leave a job when you still love it,” she said at the time.

What do you think?

I know that female leaders in the business world have not been given the same sort of publicity as their male counterparts. I scan the papers regularly to add examples to my meagre collection. Carol Hymowitz argues that the glass ceiling is still pretty much intact. That is to say, the lack of case examples reflects a deficit of women in top executive roles. It’s an old argument. Is Hymowitz right that it is still salient? What do you think?

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One Response to Does Carol Bartz disprove or confirm the glass ceiling theory?

  1. [...] The appointment of Carol Bartz replacing Larry Page as head of Yahoo has provided leadership headlines. Do the stories confirm the view that despite her success, prejudices against female executives still remain widely intact? …Next Page [...]

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