What is the glass cliff?

p 1 the complexities of why women are still falling off the glass cliff

Over 17 years in the past, the Occasions of London ran a narrative on the entrance web page of the enterprise part about what number of corporations with girls on boards or in management positions have been in worse monetary positions. The obvious conclusion? Ladies have been merely not nicely fitted to these positions. A handy reply for these most snug with the established order of largely white, male management.

But it surely didn’t sit proper with Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam. The 2 teachers knew that correlation doesn’t indicate causation, so that they got down to discover out what was actually occurring. The consequence was giving a reputation to one thing that had been occurring for years: The ladies at these corporations have been falling off the glass cliff.

Chances are high you’ve heard of the glass ceiling, that invisible barrier for ladies making an attempt to interrupt via to the highest ranges of management, whether or not in the C-suite or the White Home.


However the few girls (and different members of underrepresented teams) who do break the glass ceiling usually face the glass cliff. They’re introduced in to show issues round throughout dire occasions, akin to when an organization is failing, usually in order that they are often blamed if issues don’t go nicely. In different phrases, they handle to interrupt via the glass ceiling, solely to get pushed off the glass cliff.

It’s a phenomenon the place, when you’re conscious of it, you will discover loads of high-profile examples. Marissa Mayer, who was appointed CEO of Yahoo in 2014 when the firm was struggling to compete with Google; Theresa Might, who grew to become England’s prime minister in 2016 after the Brexit referendum prompted financial turmoil; Jill Soltau, who was introduced in as the CEO of JCPenney in 2018 as the demise of malls left the firm struggling to remain afloat.

On the newest episode of The New Means We Work, I spoke with Michelle Ryan, professor of social and organizational psychology at the College of Exeter and one in all the authentic researchers who coined the time period “glass cliff” in 2004. She famous that whereas the time period and the phenomenon have grow to be rather more extensively identified over the final decade, there hasn’t been notable progress.

So why does this occur? Ryan defined that it isn’t simply that girls and different underrepresented teams are set as much as fail or put in as scapegoats; it’s additionally on account of an outgrowth of beliefs about girls’s management types. Ryan says, “Our analysis means that in occasions of disaster, organizations would possibly try to lean towards extra stereotypical female traits. So whether or not that’s as a result of we usually have males in management roles, so having a girl would imply making an attempt one thing totally different, or whether or not it’s as a result of there’s specific facets of crises that [organizations believe] want these stereotypical female traits.” However whereas it might appear to be a lift of confidence that an organization will flip to girls to guide in a time of disaster, it’s truly a symptom of considering of white cis males as the default “regular” chief.

This could then be a self-reinforcing cycle. If girls are the exception to the rule in management roles, and are largely in control of troubled corporations, and so they fail or they wrestle, Ryans says, “We generalize that’s a attribute of girls normally. If a person is in a management position and he doesn’t accomplish that nicely, nobody says, ‘Oh, nicely, , males aren’t any good at management.’ It’s simply him as a person.”

Ryan went on to present examples of how this performs out throughout industries from enterprise to authorities round the world, in addition to how the pandemic has exacerbated the downside. She additionally affords some concrete methods corporations can begin to deliver extra parity to their higher administration.

Hearken to the full episode right here: