Written By
Marissa Peretz

08.31.16

Is There A Double Standard When Female CEOs In Tech Stumble?

If we truly want to improve the leadership and C-suite opportunities available for women, we have an incredible opportunity to do so. We can change the way that we critique female CEOs relative to the way we critique male CEOs. For instance, male CEOs, tech or otherwise, fail all the time. But are they critiqued in the same way? In order to change, we must first be cognizant of our own biases. Here is an experiment that we can all try: think about Marissa Mayer. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about her tenure at Yahoo?  What about Theranos biotech CEO Elizabeth Holmes? Compare that to the first thing that comes into your mind when you think about Kenneth Lay, CEO of Enron. Or Lucas Duplan, the CEO of Clinkle, or Angelo Mozilo, the former chairman of Countrywide Financial? For many people, the first thing that comes to mind with Ms. Mayer and Ms. Holmes is that they are female CEOs that failed. By comparison, many of us judge male CEOs on the merits or ethics of their decisions along with the outcome of their leadership.

Part of this is a numbers game. There are a lot of successful, wise, and ethical male CEOs. So a few bad apples do not spoil the entire grocery store. Female CEOs, however, are much more few and far between. Since the data pool is so small, people attribute characteristics of prominent individuals to the group of women as a whole. Therefore, when a female CEO fails, people may assume it is because she is female. Other women see the way their fellow women are critiqued when they ascend to the top of the corporate ladder, and it makes them pause and wonder if the extra work and sacrifice required to climb to the top is really worth it.

Regardless of gender, all CEOs make mistakes. Some larger than others. Studying mistakes is important. We should examine each CEO’s journey not from the perspective of gender, but as an individual and objective case study for erroneous business decisions. The point is not to shame a CEO right away. One reason is that we should study both the successes and error of others so that we may learn and to prevent ourselves from making large mistakes in our own business. Another reason is that we do not want to frighten the next generation of female leaders into obscurity, afraid to make mistakes because they are afraid of what people will think of them and their entire gender.

The change in the way female CEOs are perceived starts with us. So we choose to end this recap on a positive note. We should highlight good CEOs like Susan Wojcicki, the current CEO of YouTube. She proposed to Google’s board that they should purchase YouTube, and she handled that $1.65 billion acquisition in 2006 and the $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick in 2007. She was named in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2015. Another honorable mention is Ursula Burns, Xerox CEO since 2010 who Forbes ranked as one of the 25 most powerful woman in the world in 2014. She also advises community, educational and non-profit organizations including FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), National Academy Foundation, and MIT. Finally, we highlight Meg Whitman, who from 1998 to 2008 guided eBay from 30 employees and $4 million in annual revenue, to more than 15,000 employees and $8 billion in annual revenue. Harvard Business Review named her among the top 10 best performing CEOs of the past decade.  To read more about the way we analyze female CEOs, read the full article on NPR.