Women In Leadership Positions: Glass Cliffs
Are women shattering the glass ceiling only to fall off the glass cliff? The Glass Cliff is where women are likelier than men to achieve leadership roles during a period of crisis when there is increased risk of scrutiny and failure.
The Glass Cliff concept was developed by Michelle K. Ryan and S. Alexander Haslam and examines what happens when women (and other minority groups) take on leadership roles. This and subsequent studies have found that women are more likely to be promoted to the top level positions such as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) when a company is facing a downturn or crisis as this is when boards are more apt to appoint someone outside of the traditional white, male as their CEO.
More women are cracking the glass ceiling and being promoted to senior executive positions but continue to face gender bias after attaining leadership positions, resulting in a “glass cliff effect” where they face increased scrutiny, and criticism. They are asked to save drowning companies while being compared to men who run steady ones. Notable glass cliff hires include Marissa Mayer (Yahoo!) and Meg Whitman (Hewlett Packard). One of the few who has overcome this phenomenon is Mary Barra of General Motors.
Research from the University of Missouri shows that investors are more likely to target female CEOs (stereotyping them as having less support and influence than male CEOs) and buying shares of their companies to direct strategic management decisions.
Helping to create gender parity in boardrooms is essential to heading off the glass cliff effect. The benign neglect and failure of organizations to support female senior executives is a worrying trend. California, for example, has become the first state to require female board directors in numbers commensurate to the size of the company's board.
In addition to cracking the glass ceiling, women must navigate the glass cliff hurdles to protect their career trajectory. However, they will need help achieving this. Both male and female colleagues need to provide ongoing support for the success of their female CEOs and their corporation.
There is no easy fix for gender bias except to create a corporate culture which actively promotes and supports women’s careers.