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Origin of glass cliff
Words nearby glass cliff
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What does glass cliff mean?
The glass cliff is a metaphor for putting women and other minorities into leadership positions during times of crisis. It suggests they are getting set up to fail, as if getting pushed over a cliff.
Where does glass cliff come from?
The term glass cliff was coined by Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam, psychology researchers at the University of Exeter.
In November 2003, the London Times published an article about research showing that “shares in companies with more women directors tended to underperform.”
Ryan and Haslam undertook an extensive study of the data in response to this claim and uncovered a more nuanced story: Companies tended to appoint a female to the board after months of financial losses. They termed this dynamic the glass cliff, a riff on the glass ceiling, referring to the barriers to leadership women face.
In a May 2004 article for the BBC called “Introducing…the glass cliff,” Ryan and Haslam argue that the “glass cliff is a dangerous place to be,” because it makes women targets for criticism, resulting in shorter overall tenures in leadership positions.
As Ryan and Haslam suggested and subsequent research has confirmed, the glass cliff phenomenon is not limited to the business and financial world. It’s also at play in politics, as women are often put into high office during times of crisis. Some point to Theresa May being put into power at the height of the Brexit drama in 2016.
In the early 2010s, continuing research into the glass cliff found it wasn’t limited to women. Ethnic minorities are also disproportionately put into leadership positions where they are “set up to fail.”
Not all studies confirm the glass cliff theory, but it is a widely accepted finding in the business and psychological fields.
How is glass cliff used in real life?
The expression glass cliff began in psychological research, and it remains a common point of study for business and social researchers. But, glass cliff isn’t just used in the academy.
I just walked by a magazine stand and saw more diversity than I can ever remember. Half women of color, one over 60, one over 50, one over 40. As many women w/pink hair as blonde. It may be a glass cliff situation as magazines die off, but I'll take it. pic.twitter.com/p2QausvrUk
— Nell Scovell (@NellSco) June 9, 2018
Financial newspapers, opinion columnists, and internet feminists all use the term glass cliff to describe when women or other minorities are put in positions of power at particularly precarious times. The phrase is often used within an expression like they were pushed off the glass cliff or she was promoted off a glass cliff.
Some examples of women in leadership who faced the glass cliff are Ellen Pao, the former Reddit CEO, and Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packer CEO, both brought on in times of crisis, then blamed and let go when things didn’t turn around as expected.
what a wonderful time to discuss the glass cliff https://t.co/hDyfw2EpjU
— vicky mochama (@vmochama) June 22, 2018
While the glass cliff phenomenon appears anywhere that positions of leadership are available, including local school districts, the term glass cliff is most often used in business or political contexts.
Yes, it was a glass cliff for Campbell. I'm glad he came to the realization, in whatever way, that it wouldn't pan out for him. Of course, Vision gives an #Indigenous leader (finally) the opportunity when the party is dying & has the lowest public approval https://t.co/lKwzFQKhjc pic.twitter.com/962pmxlCwk
— Leena (@leenaminifie) September 11, 2018
More examples of glass cliff:
“Some women are able to beat the odds and step away from the glass cliff.”
—Bryce Covert, The New Republic, October, 2014
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.