A few days ago it was announced that Marvin Ellison, formerly of Home Depot will be taking the reigns as CEO of struggling retailer JCPenney. The announcement was met with strong reception driving up the company’s stock prices. Ellison is credited for being a driving force behind Home Depot’s comeback after the housing crisis and the market is hoping he can engineer a repeat performance for the department store. Alongside reports of Ellison’s success was also mention of the fact that he is the first African American CEO JCPenney has had in its 112-year history, and is now the seventh(!) black CEO in the country.
As a woman of color that is in a senior position at my organization, it is inspiring to see that Ellison’s performance and leadership qualities were heavily touted within coverage of his appointment. Ellison is clearly qualified for the job and has a proven track record of success. As I read further I came across an interesting article on ThinkProgress.org that discussed a study examining women or people of color in corporate leadership positions. The author shared that, “women and people of color are more likely to be promoted to the top of struggling companies, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the ‘glass cliff’.” No matter what previous performance period researchers looked at, return on equity was significantly negative before a woman and/or a person of color became CEO at a Fortune 500 company between 1996 and 2010, even with a variety of factors that could have an impact taken into account.”