Under Julia Pierson, who will be spending more time with her family in coming months, the Secret Service was a disaster: an armed felon rode in an elevator with the president, a fence jumper made it deeper into the White House than the un-candid Secret Service originally admitted, and the agents missed bullet holes from a previous incident that a White House maid spotted.
Pierson, who joined the Secret Service in 1984 and had been director for a little more than a year, resigned earlier this week after calls for her head on both sides of the aisle. So a writer for the liberal New Republic says that Ms. Pierson was pushed over the “glass cliff” (hat tip Matt Vespa of Hot Air).
The term “glass cliff” was coined by two academics who wrote a paper entitled “The Glass Cliff: Evidence that Women Are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions.” Bryce Covert, who works for Think Progress and writes for The Nation, picked up on the theme for a New Republic article headlined “Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Was a Victim of the ‘Glass Cliff.’”
Reasonable people can disagree about whether, ultimately, she deserved to lose her job or whether anyone in charge during such an incident would have to resign. But it’s probably not pure chance that Pierson, who held that position for just a year-and-a-half, was a woman. Time and again, women are put in charge only when there’s a mess, and if they can’t engineer a quick cleanup, they’re shoved out the door. The academics Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam even coined a term for this phenomenon: They call it getting pushed over the glass cliff.
Pierson was, in fact, explicitly brought in to clean up a mess.
That she didn’t clean it up and that, in fact, it appears to have gotten worse is apparently irrelevant: Pierson was shoved over the glass cliff. But the supposed phenomenon of the "glass cliff" is not limited to government. Covert writes of corporate shoves over the “glass cliff:”
Women are also thought to have qualities associated with cleaning up messes.
And that would be fine, except taking over an organization that’s in trouble is a lot harder than taking over one that’s flourishing. The chances of failure are inevitably higher. Just ask Mary Barra, who made history when she became the first woman to run a global car company. But just two weeks into her tenure as CEO of General Motors, the company issued a massive recall on faulty ignition switches linked to 13 deaths, something the company knew about as early as 2001 but she didn’t know about until she had spent a few weeks on the job. Carly Fiorina took over Hewlett-Packard as the tech bubble was bursting. Anne M. Mulcahy got her shot at being the first female CEO at Xerox when it was $17 billion in debt and being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Lynn Laverty Elsenhans was named the first female CEO of Sunoco after shares had fallen 52 percent. Erin Callan got a chance at being CFO of Lehman Brothers in December 2007 – just ahead of the financial meltdown – and resigned just months before it ended up declaring bankruptcy. Zoe Cruz became the most powerful woman in finance and was about to be the next CEO of Morgan Stanley just before the mortgage market tanked.
Hard-hearted Charlotte regards this as just the latest attempt to use identity to get off the hook for foul-ups. Matt Vespa is a little kinder and gentler but is clearly appalled that Julia Pierson’s sex is being used as a factor to excuse poor performance on the job:
Granted, there is something to be said about this trend–and a legitimate debate is warranted for how women are treated in the workplace; that’s fine. But the United States Secret Service isn’t Hewlett-Packard; it’s not Lehman Brothers.
It’s protecting the most powerful person on the planet; this person is the leader of the free world. A major breach, like the one we saw this past week, is definite grounds for dismissal.
Blaming Pierson's failure on her sex is simply the latest example of an incompetent person’s incompetence being blamed on gender identity.
I hear blatant incompetence is also often dismissed nowadays by calling those who point it out racists.