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.


08/16/2019 11:58 AMupdated: 08/16/2019 2:34 PM


  • Renee' B.
    08/13/2021 11:00

    This happened to me in my career. Nothing like a Fortune 500 company, but nonetheless painful and difficult to get through. Ultimately I left the industry I loved so much and started over.

  • Janet J.
    09/11/2020 20:16

    amazing info here

  • Horace M.
    07/05/2020 13:22

    Interesting position!

  • Sherry W.
    08/30/2019 05:32

    I don't see any truth here.

  • Mark R.
    08/27/2019 20:17

    Really let blame it on white men again it was interesting till she came out with that

  • Rick S.
    08/27/2019 16:27

    Another new victim group. Any doubt that more white male CEOs fail annually than any other group of CEOs in America? If you become a CEO chances are far greater you will fail to one degree or another than to leave a success in all aspects.

  • Jeff K.
    08/24/2019 23:36


  • Alaa M.
    08/19/2019 22:03

    There is something else that contributes to this phenomenon, the legacy of men are usually hard to be forgotten ,like the Obama's, and even if it was bad for some reason people still manage to see the efforts they made ,like Bill Clinton's. On the other hand women legacy are usually never mentioned agian... Margaret Thatcher was an exceptional woman even the USSR elite journalists called her _woman of steel_ . AND now with a bad ending of May's career and a speech interrupted by choking tears she couldn't help stoping... Glass cliff is ,saddly , even higher and more painful.

  • Suzanne M.
    08/19/2019 12:55

    I’m glad you ladies already said what I was thinking. Man or woman, if you’re a rotten person you’re gonna get toppled.

  • Heidi B.
    08/18/2019 22:40

    I definitely feel that women can excel in leadership just as I believe they can also be evil and self serving. Choose your friends and advocates wisely.

  • David M.
    08/17/2019 20:10

    Lol the see proof that you start in crisis. You know how their always play the blame shifting card. That the problem with some women power comes with taking responsibility

  • Korey C.
    08/16/2019 16:16

    How about maybe it's because they're being put in leadership positions because of their gender not qualifications. Maybe that's why they fail? Hmmm shocking

  • Brut
    08/16/2019 13:22

    When the Rent The Runway co-founders were looking for investors, one venture capitalist told them their idea was "cute." 🙄 Now, their company is valued at $1 billion and they want to see more investment in women entrepreneurs.

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