Money & Career

Forget the Glass Ceiling. This is the NEW issue facing ambitious women


Ever dreamed of running the country? Or being a CEO of a blue-chip company? Are you naturally inclined to take charge and lead the way?

Well, we wish you the best, but there is something you should know. Never mind the glass ceiling above your head (we’re well on the way to cracking through that – thank you Hillary Clinton); it’s the oh-so slippery ‘glass cliff’ at your feet you should be worrying about

What’s a glass cliff you ask?  It’s a new theory that suggests that 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.

Think about it; Theresa May, Julia Gillard, Kristina Keneally, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer all found power only when the chips were down. 

US researchers Dr Michelle Ryan and Professor Alex Haslam coined the term ‘glass cliff’ after investigating women in positons of power; namely how they got to the top and how long they stayed there.

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.

The same can be said of the corporate world. High profile cases include Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Meg Whitman at Hewlett Packard, Mary Barra at General Motors were all appointed as their company’s share prices were plummeting.

Which of course begs the question: why?

Optimistically, researchers suggest that women can be perceived as nurtures in times of need, caregivers and collaborative. Cynics, however, believe it’s more of a ‘run for cover’ strategy used 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, like Whitman, Mayer and Barra, have turned their companies’ fortunes around. But many fail simply because they’ve been set up to fail. 

But back to you. If you’re ambitious, driven and have your eye on the top prize, then how do you avoid the glass cliff?

The answer is to be VERY wary of the company you’re joining. Ask yourself: are women already in positions of power within the organisation? Are female-friendly policies in place? By assesses your opportunities with open eyes, even if you do seize the moment – will help you in the long run survive the tricky battlefield that still lies ahead for female, and minority, leaders.

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