Glass Cliff

In this article, you will read about glass cliff with its effects on businesses and the corporate world, as well as strategies to address this phenomenon.

What Is Glass Cliff?

The term “glass cliff” refers to the tendency for women and members of other underrepresented, disadvantaged groups to be given leadership roles in corporations only during periods of crisis or downturn. The term originated in the field of corporate law.

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These leaders are often given positions with high levels of risk and uncertainty, wherein the failure is most likely. It refers to obstacles and covert barriers that women, members of racial or ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, homosexual people, and other groups face at work and that prevent them from moving up the corporate ladder.

The glass cliff is a genuine phenomenon, according to research, and it can be caused by a variety of things, such as gender and racial stereotypes, the need to make a strong statement about diversity and inclusion, and the propensity (tendency) of organisations to seek out leaders who are seen as different from the previous leader.

Ultimately, the glass cliff sheds light on the difficulties minority groups who are underrepresented in corporate law confront, as well as the necessity for institutions and organisations to address diversity and inclusion concerns not only at lower levels but also at higher levels of leadership.

Evolution of Glass Cliff

From its initial introduction in 2004, the idea of the “glass cliff” has undergone a significant transformation. For example, it was initially thought to solely affect women in leadership roles. The glass cliff, however, also had an impact on people who belonged to other underrepresented groups, such as people of colour, LGBTQ+ persons, and people with disabilities, as the study* revealed over time.

It is not just a problem in business; it also exists in politics, academia, and other spheres. Women in academia are more likely to be chosen for leadership posts in underperforming departments or amid financial hardships, for instance, while female political leaders are frequently recruited to high-risk positions during periods of political crisis or economic instability.

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The development of the glass cliff has also boosted awareness of the phenomenon, which has prompted businesses and individuals to take action. To avoid the formation of it, some businesses, for instance, are actively working to diversify their leadership teams.

Also, increasing activities and dialogues are aimed at encouraging diversity, equity, and inclusion in leadership roles.

Causes for the Formation of Glass Cliff in Corporate Governance

The following are some of the causes of the glass cliff:

1. Stereotyping and Bias

It’s possible that women and minorities are perceived as being more suitable for softer, more caring jobs than demanding leadership positions. Due to this prejudice, it may appear that minorities and women are better qualified for leadership positions in difficult or unstable situations.

2. Lack of Diversity in Leadership

Businesses may be more inclined to go to women and minorities to fill demanding leadership positions if they have a lack of diversity in their leadership ranks. This may give the impression that minorities and women are only appointed because they have no other options.

3. Risk-Taking Attitudes

It’s possible that minorities and women are seen as more risk-takers in leadership positions. When organisations face difficulties or uncertainty, this perception may influence the appointment of these people to high-pressure positions.

Concluding the Causes Section

Women and minorities may find it difficult to obtain leadership positions, especially in fields or organisations where men have traditionally held the majority of the positions. When possibilities do present themselves, they may be more likely to be appointed to demanding positions during periods of unrest or disaster.

Overall, structural biases and hurdles that impede women and minorities from attaining leadership positions and from being seen as credible and successful leaders are to be blamed for the glass cliff. It takes a dedication to diversity and inclusion at all levels of leadership, as well as an understanding of the particular difficulties and experiences that women and minority leaders may have in their positions, to address these biases and barriers. Organizations should avoid the glass cliff and promote the success of all leaders, regardless of gender or background, by fostering a fairer and more inclusive workplace.

Is There a Need for Glass Cliff?

The glass cliff is a phenomenon that describes the tendency to appoint women and minorities to leadership positions during times of crisis or instability, setting them up for failure. This is not a desirable or productive outcome for anyone involved.

The glass cliff can harm minority and women leaders’ reputations and careers, diminish their trustworthiness, and reaffirm preconceived notions about their aptitude for leadership and competence. Also, it may prohibit businesses from utilising their varied leaders’ capabilities to the fullest.

The glass cliff is unnecessary, and organisations should endeavour to remove the prejudices and obstacles that fuel this phenomenon in favour of developing an office environment that values inclusion and diversity at all levels of leadership.

Glass Cliff vs Glass Ceiling

Glass cliff and the glass ceiling are two similar but different workplace phenomena that impact various groups.

The term “glass ceiling” describes the invisible barriers that keep women and other underrepresented groups from rising to senior leadership positions in businesses. Systemic biases and cultural practices that favour males and uphold gender stereotypes can strengthen this barrier. Barriers to progression may include:

  • Unequal remuneration.
  • A lack of access to leadership training.
  • Few possibilities for career development for women and other underrepresented groups.

On the other side, the glass cliff is the tendency for women and other marginalised groups to be appointed in disproportionate numbers to leadership roles during times of crisis or organisational unrest.

The Not-So-Obvious Dangers of the Glass Cliff

The glass cliff poses several dangers to women and minority leaders. Here are some of them:

1. Set Up for Failure

Women and minority leaders appointed to leadership positions during times of crisis or instability may be set up for failure. High expectations and pressure are common characteristics of these professions, although success isn’t always guaranteed. As a result, prejudices regarding the competence and leadership potential of women and minority leaders may be strengthened, harming their careers and reputations.

2. Increased Scrutiny and Bias

Women and minority executives may experience more scrutiny and bias while taking on difficult leadership positions. They could be held to harsher accountability requirements and higher performance standards than their male or non-minority counterparts.

3. Undermined Credibility

Women and minority leaders who are put in charge during times of crisis may find it difficult to build trust with team members and stakeholders. It may be harder for them to lead effectively if they are perceived as being less skilled or competent than their male or non-minority peers.

The risks of the glass cliff highlight the necessity of structural reform in the workplace. Organizations may foster a more equitable and inclusive workplace that is advantageous to all employees by addressing the biases and obstacles that impede women and minorities from thriving in leadership positions.

How Can Women Prevent Falling Off the Glass Cliff?

Although there are no quick fixes for the glass cliff because it is a systemic problem, women must utilise the following techniques to avoid slipping off:

1. Create a Strong Skill Set for Yourself

Women leaders who have a strong skill set are better able to handle demanding leadership jobs. Engage in learning and development activities that can aid in your growth of abilities in strategic thinking, conflict resolution, and decision-making.

2. Be Proactive About Seeking Out Opportunities

Women leaders may not always be given a chance to hold leadership positions; therefore, it’s crucial to be proactive in looking for fresh opportunities and demanding jobs. Speak up for yourself and look for fresh challenges that will allow you to expand your knowledge and expertise.

3. Have a Strong Personal Brand

Women leaders with strong personal brands are more likely to be viewed as competent executives. Work on crafting a message that is distinct from others and consistent with your abilities, expertise, and leadership style.

Instances Where Glass Cliffs Were Seen in Real Life

The glass cliff is a phenomenon where minority or women executives are more likely to be nominated to leadership positions in unstable or crisis-ridden environments where failure is more likely. Examples of the glass cliff include the following:

1. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer

In 2012, Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo, a digital business that was in financial trouble and was losing market share to Google and Facebook.

2. Ellen Pao at Reddit

In 2014, Reddit, a well-known social media site dogged by controversy and scandal, nominated Ellen Pao as interim CEO. Users who disapproved of Pao’s leadership style and perceived a lack of transparency subjected her to harsh criticism and abuse, and she eventually decided to leave the company.

3. Mary Barra at GM

In 2014, Mary Barra was appointed as General Motors’ first female CEO. At the time, the firm had just come out of bankruptcy and was dealing with a number of significant recalls involving faulty ignition switches. Barra was given the difficult and stressful responsibility of handling the consequences of the recalls and repairing the company’s reputation.

4. Theresa May as UK Prime Minister

In 2016, immediately after the Brexit referendum, which had brought about political and economic unrest in the nation, Theresa May was appointed UK Prime Minister. May was under tremendous pressure to negotiate a successful Brexit deal and keep the Kingdom stable, but she ultimately found it difficult to win support for her ideas and was compelled to leave in 2019.

In general, the glass cliff is a phenomenon that can be harmful to minority and female leaders since it may set them up for failure in circumstances where success is uncertain. Therefore, a dedication to diversity and inclusion in leadership roles is necessary to address the glass cliff, as is a readiness to support and assist leaders who are dealing with difficult situations.


To sum up, the glass cliff is a serious and alarming phenomenon that has an impact on women and minority leaders. When women or members of minorities are nominated to leadership positions during periods of crisis or unrest, they may be subjected to more scrutiny and performance expectations than their male or non-minority counterparts. This may make it harder for them to succeed and may contribute to a larger pattern of minority and female underrepresentation in leadership roles.

A commitment to diversity and inclusion in leadership is necessary to address the “glass cliff,” as is an understanding of the difficulties and hindrances women and minorities encounter in these positions.

* Note: The author of this article has referred to the research, “The Glass Cliff: Evidence that Women are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions”, by Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam, published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.’

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