What the "Glass Cliff" Means for Working Women

These woman may have broken through the glass ceiling, but they've fallen off the glass cliff — a phenomenon where women appointed to leadership positions are set up to fail.

Women and the Glass Cliff Phenomenon

Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo's Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP these women CEO’s have one point in common: They all have fallen off the glass cliff. Women are appointed to manage the crisis. Oftentimes they're blamed for the crisis even though this was not a crisis of their own making. And if they're not able to fix the crisis in a short period of time, they're replaced by white men and term this the savior effect. To understand the phenomenon, researchers Christy Glass and Alison Cook looked at U.S. Fortune 500 companies over a 15-year period. According to them, gender-stereotypical qualities and high-risk career strategies are key factors leading to the glass cliff — that not only affect women, but members of minority groups. Theresa May is a classic example of a woman set up to fail. She was put in the position of leading an effort that was doomed to fail, that there were no good solutions, and she was held accountable for that, she was held accountable for a crisis that was not of her making.

There are stereotypes that women are warmer, have better communication skills, are more empathetic and so one, the argument is that they tend to be appointed during these crisis moments because it's better to hear bad news from somebody who's kind of warm and empathetic. So very early in their career they realized that to overcome their hyper-visibility as outsiders, they had to prove themselves again and again and again, and the way they did that was by going after the toughest most challenging assignments from early in the career, all the way to the end. As a result, women and minority CEOs face unequal pressures that traditional CEOs don’t experience. Yet, some women leaders managed to survive the glass cliff. The glass cliff applies beyond the business world, women in politics are also at risk.