Most people have heard of the ‘glass ceiling’ in the context of gender equality. This is when ladies cannot continue to develop in their careers for invisible reasons. They are based on prejudice and prevent women from reaching the highest positions in a given company. Equally insidious is the “glass cliff” phenomenon, where women are appointed to high positions in times of crisis and uncertainty and are unfairly punished when they fail.
Research on the topic
Michelle Ryan and Alexander Haslam of the University of Exeter researched 100 companies on the Financial Times Stock Exchange to find out if women who achieved higher positions are more likely than men to end up on a ‘glass cliff’, meaning their positions are risky or uncertain. The study found that during a period of overall stock market decline, companies that appointed women to their boards were more likely to underperform consistently over the previous five months compared to those with appointed men. These results reveal an additional, largely invisible, hurdle that women must overcome in the workplace.
When expectations are not fully met, companies feel justified in reverting to status quo management by putting a man back in charge. The board or management can then feel satisfied that although they tried to promote diversity, it just didn’t work out this time.
Another study by Columbia Business School in New York wanted to answer the question “Why do so few women lead companies?”. The researchers proved that women are perceived as the right choice to lead a company in difficult times, but not as leaders when times they are good.
How to avoid falling off the cliff?
The search for quick results leads to an underestimation of the long-term strategy. One way women leaders can protect themselves is by setting actionable metrics that measure success.
If the company is in a precarious situation, before taking on the role, women should make sure that the position is made to be worth the time invested in financial terms. Women are four times less likely to negotiate their salary than men. In such a situation, it is important that the parties agree on a comparable salary that corresponds to the situation.
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