Carol Bartz on how her firing wouldn’t happen to a man, and the challenges of women in leadership
She’s not afraid to speak her truth to power.
When Carol Bartz, the straight-shooting former Yahoo CEO, was fired by the firm in 2011, she told the press exactly what she thought of that — a move that allegedly cost her millions.
“I was in a limo driving into New York City when I got a call from Roy Bostock, the chairman of the board, and told me I was fired. I was literally 20 minutes away from where he was physically located. He didn’t have the nerve to see me face to face,” she recounts of the firing on the latest episode of “The Secret Life of CEOs” debuting on Freakonomics Radio today. “I do not believe that that would have happened to a man,” she recalls.
In the aftermath of that drama, Bartz slammed Yahoo to the press, calling the board “doofuses” and adding that “these people fu***ed me over.” And that’s when the rumors started, alleging that Bartz may have had to shell out $10 million for having violated a disparagement clause in her contract.
Did she really have to pay up? We may never know the exact answer, as Bartz tells Freakonomics that after speaking her mind, “all those little men just ran into a corner.” When pressed further, she simply notes, that “all was worth it,” advising people to “stand by what your words are.”
She’s just as outspoken on the trials that women face in leadership positions. “I don’t believe a female is ever hired as CEO, especially from the outside, for the reasons that she was the absolute number-one pick,” Bartz says. Indeed, she thinks that even in the case of her hiring at Yahoo, “I believe if they had found what they consider the perfect male, they would have taken the perfect male” instead of Bartz.
She also says that she believes the ‘glass cliff’ — the idea that women are more likely to become CEOs when a company is struggling (like Yahoo was when she took over) — is a real thing. “It is absolutely true that women have a better chance to get a directorship, or a senior position, if there’s trouble. It’s mostly because a lot of times men don’t want the job. And so they go for the Tier 1 man on their list, and they take a look and say, ‘I wouldn’t touch that with anything.’ And then they get to the Tier 2 man. And by the time they get to the Tier 2 man, some woman has finally popped up in their mind. And she’s so happy that she has a chance to have a senior position as a director or a C.E.O. that she takes it,” Bartz says.
She continues: “And I think it’s good that she takes it. I have no problem with that. But it’s not that all of a sudden the boards wake up and say, ‘Oh, there should be a female here.’ … It’s easier to hide behind: ‘Well, of course that failed, because it was female.’”
Bottom line: “It’s still a pretty nefarious way of thinking,” Bartz concludes.
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