Women are better in crisis conditions but are always hanging on the glass cliff

  • Rita Chowdhry
  • December 21, 2018

“So much for smashing the glass ceiling and using their
unique skills to enhance the performance of Britain’s biggest companies. The
triumphant march of women into the country’s boardrooms has instead wreaked
havoc on companies’ performance” Judge, 2003, The Times.

Once women manage to break through the glass ceiling and
take on positions of leadership they often have experiences that are different
to men. Women are more likely to be appointed leadership roles that are risky
and precarious – this is because they are appointed lead of an organisation
that is in chaos or they are not provided with the support and resources needed
for success. This is known as the Glass Cliff – referring to the danger of the
potential risk of falling which is not already apparent.

One well-known instance of this is Theresa May, who was put
on a Glass Cliff after being appointed Prime Minister at the time of Brexit

So why are women put
in this inevitable position?

Past research shows that women are more likely to find themselves
in these difficult roles as stereotypical feminine traits are often regarded a
better fit for leadership roles in these difficult times.

They are more likely to be:

  • Empathic
  • Nurturing
  • Friendly
  • Showing interest in
    helping others
  • Creative
  • Intuitive
  • Supportive of work

What past research
has been done on this?

A study led by Michelle Ryan, a researcher at the University
of Exeter, showed strong evidence for the existence of the Glass Cliff. The
study involved people rating personality traits on how desirable they would be
for leadership positions in successful and unsuccessful companies. Results from
this particular study found that masculine and feminine traits were desirable
for leadership positions in successful companies and only feminine traits were
desirable for leadership positions in unsuccessful companies. As women are
associated more with having these feminine traits which are more desirable for
these roles, they are more likely to be appointed leaders in tough times.

why could this have such a devastating impact on women’s reputations in

Although it is great that women are breaking through the
glass ceiling and making in roads within businesses, the glass cliff is in fact
putting women’s reputation in business at stake. This is because these
leadership roles, in times of crisis, are attracting far more attention than
leadership roles in situations where everything is running smoothly. So people
in these positions are more likely to be in a position of facing criticism and
backlash. As well as this, they have an increased risk of failure due to the
tricky situation they have been put in and people are quick to blame the leader
if something goes wrong rather than the situation. As women are more likely to
find themselves in these difficult roles, people may now associate women in
business and politics with negative consequences.

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