For the first time, a major sports team in the United States will have women running the day-to-day operations of the entire organization. Caroline O’Connor was named president of baseball operations for the Miami Marlins yesterday, almost two years after Kim Ng became the team’s general manager.
O’Connor takes the reins of a team struggling with viewership and revenue. Research suggests O’Connor may be on a “glass cliff,” holding a precarious leadership position as a female enabler in a struggling organization.
She is the second woman to serve as president of a Major League Baseball (MLB) team—Seattle Mariners’ Catie Griggs was the first. As President of Operations, the team announced that O’Connor will oversee all of the club’s business operations, including sales, partnerships, marketing, human resources and diversity, equity and inclusion, finance, legal, communications, public relations, technology, security, ballpark facilities and special projects. Ng, the first female executive director in MLB, will continue to lead the organization’s baseball side.
Unlike Ng, who had a baseball background, O’Connor worked in finance before joining the Marlins. After serving as a managing director at Morgan Stanley
O’Connor faces several challenges in her new role. According to several business metrics, the Marlins organization is lagging behind most other MLB teams. They finished second to bottom in MLB attendance in 2022, have the lowest rating of any MLB team and ranked 28thth (of 30 teams) in revenue.
Given the way the Marlins are doing, O’Connor may find himself on a glass cliff. The glass cliff refers to the phenomenon that women are more likely to be chosen to lead an organization in crisis mode. For example, one study found that women were more likely to be promoted to board positions at companies that consistently underperformed over the past five months. It’s called a cliff because leading an organization through tough times is a particularly precarious and challenging position. Blame often falls on the leader when there is no quick turnaround.
Underperforming organizations choose women for these cliff-top roles for a number of reasons. Appointing a woman to a position traditionally held by a man signals change, and that alone can be a plus when an organization is struggling. Additionally, the more feminine traits typically associated with female leaders, such as understanding, intuitive, and creative demeanor, may be more desirable in times of crisis. Nonetheless, these glass cliff positions carry a much greater chance of failure than leadership positions in stable times.
Women in these roles, particularly in male-dominated environments, may also find that their actions are subject to more scrutiny and judgment. In one study, women in male-dominated managerial positions were seen as less competent and less respected than men in those jobs after just one mistake on the job.
On the plus side, there are already signs that O’Connor is improving the situation with the Marlins and may not be a victim of the cliff of glass. Despite dismal attendance at LoanDepot Park, where the team plays, numbers are up 12% from 2019, last year allowing full seating capacity for the entire season.
“We’re pretty deep into tea ball and youth baseball league, the activities that we do with schools in the community. We’ve seen a lot of young Marlins fans in the community and at our games and it’s really so exciting for us. We need to continue to push that and get the larger community to come to our games as a regular event as they think about what to do on their evenings and weekends,” O’Connor said in an MLB press release.