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Women face the glass cliff


You’ve heard of the glass ceiling – well, new research from the University of Exeter reveals that women are increasingly facing the glass cliff.

The research, which was commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, reveals that many organisations will only appoint a woman into a very senior post in times of crisis or poor performance.

This leaves female leaders facing a form of hidden discrimination which leaves them more likely to fail than their male counterparts.

Dianah Worman, CIPD diversity adviser, says: “Female leaders are all too often set up to fail.

“Due to limited opportunities open to female leaders many are forced to take the more difficult jobs in organisations with a history of poor performance, perpetuating the myth that women are poor performers in senior positions, and covering up the true extent of discrimination for the most desirable senior management positions.

“But the growth in the number of successful small businesses owned by women goes some way to indicate their business and leadership capabilities and highlights the talent other large organisations are missing. So old fashioned attitudes are not only unfair and discriminatory towards women but they leave organisations shooting themselves in the foot.”

The report brings together a number of pieces of research:

  • Company performance leading up to the appointment of a director differs depending on the gender of the appointee: for FTSE 100 companies that appointed men to their boards of directors, share price performance was relatively stable, both before and after the appointment. However, in a time of a general financial downturn in the stock market, companies that appointed a woman had experienced consistently poor performance in the months preceding the appointment.
  • Business leaders are more likely to select the female candidate when the company’s performance was said to be declining than when it was improving, according to a study of 83 senior managers participating in a regional Business Leaders’ Forum. In a scenario that involved appointing a financial director to a company these business leaders were much more likely to see the female candidate as suitable for the position when the organisation was experiencing a marked downturn in performance.
  • The glass cliff can be seen as an opportunity: in response to a scenario involving the appointment of a financial director, business leaders believed that a risky situation was seen to provide a male candidate with a much lower quality of opportunity than a non-risky situation. However, the opposite was true for an equally qualified female candidate.

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