For the first time in Australian television history, a leading news program will see two women take the helm. Channel Nine’s Today Show recently appointed Deborah Knight to replace Karl Stefanovic, joining Georgie Gardner on the news desk.
Stefanovic’s abrupt exit from Today, following a decade long post, came after 18 months of persistent negative press surrounding his messy divorce and subsequent relationship with Mara & Mine designer Jasmine Yarbrough. Today’s ratings suffered, with the news program seeing its worst ratings since its inception.
While the decision to appoint two female leads was praised by some, many couldn’t help but think the network was employing the ‘Glass Cliff’.
What’s the glass cliff, you’re wondering?
It’s a new theory that suggests women are much more likely to be appointed to top jobs – like CEO or Prime Minister – when the company or country in question is in serious trouble.
Researcher’s Dr Michelle Ryan and Professor Alex Haslam coined the term 'glass cliff' after investigating women in positions of power; namely how they got to the top and how long they stayed there.
Many have questioned why, at a time when the show is facing its hardest challenges to date, have two women been given the tough job of salvaging its ratings.
Both Knight and Gardner are exceptional journalists more than qualified to take on one of TV’s biggest gigs, both boasting the experience and sharp wit it takes to brave breakfast television.
A study published in Society for the Study of Social Problems found that businesses can display a bias when promoting women during times of crisis. The ‘Glass Cliff’ Theory suggests those in charge are more likely to appoint minorities or women when a company is under threat of failure.
Not only does this practice threaten the confidence of women in power, it also creates a mistrust among organisations that may second guess hiring women to positions of authority in the future.
Women are essentially appointed to do an almost impossible task, and then blamed for a company’s legacy of poor decision making when it (or therefore ‘she’) fails.
If the Today Show’s ratings continue to plummet – who will be held responsible?
This isn’t the first time Channel Nine has sent a woman to the theoretical glass cliff.
Last year, the network decided to axe the Footy Show after 25-years on air. The decision to can the NRL program came shortly after Erin Molan was appointed head host, replacing veteran Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin.
The days and weeks following Channel Nine’s decision to cancel, Molan was subjected to cruel, unfair and revolting suggestions that she was the reason behind the show’s cancellation – despite it having suffered plummeting ratings for years.
It’s not just women in television that are facing this new wave of recruitment either.
Theresa May, Julia Gillard, Kristina Keneally, Yahoo's Marissa Mayer all found power only when the chips were down.
Take Theresa May. There she was, confidently working as home secretary, stanchly anti-Brexit and certainly not in contention for the leadership. Then suddenly, thanks to David Cameron’s risky referendum strategy, Boris Johnson’s questionable ‘pro-leave’ campaign and some bad rain, Britain was thrown into disarray with an anti-European Union future ahead of it… Oh, and no plan on how to make it happen.
Exit swiftly stage left, David, Boris and the much-backed George Osborne, and suddenly, quite out of nowhere, Theresa May was waving from the front door of Number 10. An anti-Brexit campaigner now in charge of exiting the EU simply because everyone else couldn’t handle the heat.
Optimistically, researchers suggest that women can be perceived as nurtures in times of need, caregivers and collaborative, making them well equipped to handle companies and countries in times of crisis.
Cynics, however, believe it’s more of a "run for cover” strategy employed by men to throw women under the bus (and shield their own incompetence).
The silver lining of course is the actual attainment of power and many women have turned their companies’ around. But many fail simply because they’ve been set up to fail.