The road to the glass cliff: Differences in the perceived suitability of men and women for leadership positions in succeeding and failing organizations

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Abstract

Research into gender and leadership has tended to focus on the inequalities that women encounter while trying to climb the corporate ladder, with particular emphasis on the role played by the so-called glass ceiling. However, recent archival evidence has identified an additional hurdle that women must often overcome once they are in leadership positions: the glass cliff [Ryan, M. K., & Haslam, S. A. (2005a). The glass cliff: Evidence that women are over-represented in precarious leadership positions. British Journal of Management, 16, 81-90; Ryan, M. K. & Haslam, S. A. (2007). The glass cliff: Exploring the dynamics surrounding women's appointment to precarious leadership positions. Academy of Management Review]. This refers to the phenomenon whereby women are more likely than men to be appointed to leadership positions associated with increased risk of failure and criticism because these positions are more likely to involve management of organizational units that are in crisis. This paper presents three experimental studies (Ns = 95, 85, 83) that represent the first experimental investigations of the glass cliff phenomenon. In these, management graduates (Study 1), high-school students (Study 2) or business leaders (Study 3) selected a leader for a hypothetical organization whose performance was either improving or declining. Consistent with predictions, results indicate that the likelihood of a female candidate being selected ahead of an equally qualified male candidate increased when the organization's performance was declining rather than improving. Study 3 also provided evidence that glass cliff appointments are associated with beliefs that they (a) suit the distinctive leadership abilities of women, (b) provide women with good leadership opportunities and (c) are particularly stressful for women. These findings define an important agenda for future research. © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Haslam, S. A., & Ryan, M. K. (2008). The road to the glass cliff: Differences in the perceived suitability of men and women for leadership positions in succeeding and failing organizations. Leadership Quarterly, 19(5), 530–546. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2008.07.011

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