The Glass Cliff: Gateway to the C-Suite

woman climbing mountainThe Glass Cliff: Gateway to the C-Suite

No doublt you’ve heard of (or even bumped into) the Glass Ceiling, that invisible barrier that keeps women from making it to the top leadership spots in business. But have you heard of the Glass Cliff?

According to an article in the current Harvard Business Review, the Glass Cliff may be a woman’s best bet for getting into the C-suite. In “How Women End Up on the Glass Cliff,” co-authors in the US and Germany confirmed research that women are more likely to be chosen for the top spot in a company when: 1) the company is in crisis, and 2) the company has previously been led by men.

Because the company is in crisis, the new leader enters a precarious situation, thus the image of the “cliff.”

What’s fascinating about the findings is that the reverse did not hold true. The researchers found that if the company in question was in crisis but previously led by a woman, there was not a majority shift to choosing the opposite gender as a successor. So it’s not just a “status quo bias” (thinking that, since the current situation is not working, let’s switch to something different) that explains the Glass Cliff.

I’m not sure that the authors offer a convincing theory of what does explain the Glass Cliff phenomenon. What is clear, however, is that gender expectations are fluid and situational, and that your quickest way to the C-suite may be to find an ailing company with an outgoing male leader.

Click here to listen to an interview with one of the article’s authors.

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