Gary Neilson, one of the study’s co-authors and a senior partner at the firm, says his findings show something new about women’s so-called glass cliff. “We don’t think it’s so much that they’re put into challenging roles than that they’re more often outsiders,” he says.
His report discovered that women CEOs are comparatively more likely to hail from outside the company than their male peers are. Thirty-five percent of female chief executives between 2004 and 2013 were outsiders, compared with just 22 percent of men. (The study looked at incoming and outgoing CEOs over a period of 10 years for the world’s 2,500 largest public companies, resulting in a sample of more than 100 women at the top.)
Being CEO as an outsider “is a tougher job,” Neilson says. “They don’t have as many connections in the company to understand how things work, and their performance is not as high” as those who’ve been groomed in-house. Research has shown, for instance, that external CEOs are 6.7 times more likely to be dismissed with a short tenure than homegrown ones.