The current issue of Fortune celebrates the women executives who landed on our MPW lists this year. But another story in the magazine examines a more discouraging aspect of leading while female—the immense difficulty women execs face in finding a second or third act.
Fortune editor-at-large Jennifer Reingold lays out the sobering statistics: of the 126 women who fell off Fortune‘s MPW list between 2000 and 2015, just 13% managed to land another major role at a big public company.
One culprit behind those figures is the foreboding “glass cliff”—a phenomenon in which female leaders are more likely to be offered the CEO slot at companies that are struggling or in crisis. There’s research to back up the theory: 42% of the 50 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 through 2014 were appointed during tough times, versus 22% of a similar sample of men.
That trend plays into a paradox for women. They volunteer for the hardest jobs because they feel pressure to prove themselves, but—in entering those challenging circumstances— they are, perhaps, decreasing their chances of reaching steadier CEO jobs in the future. If they fail to turn the company around, Reingold writes, it can confirm the bias that they really don’t have what it takes. And that determination can, in turn, keep all-star women at the peak of their careers from landing another high-profile C-suite role—let alone a CEO gig.
What the story highlights is not just a problem for gender equality and diversity in business, it’s a problem for business itself, since tremendous talent is leaking out of the corporate system. Jim Citrin of executive search and consulting firm Spencer Stuart put it simply: “It is a huge waste.”
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