Samina Azad

Glass Ceiling and Glass Cliff

Discussion created by Samina Azad on Jan 2, 2011
Latest reply on Jan 11, 2011 by Samina Azad

I was reading an article on “Glass Cliff” and “Glass Ceiling” in the Feb 2011 issue of HBR. The article says that women have a better chance of breaking through the Glass Ceiling when the organization faces a crisis. More women than men accept risky positions and they often end up on Glass Cliff. The authors conducted surveys and asked Business Students to select CEOs for two companies. Students looked at resumes of two equally qualified candidates, one male and one female. In the first case, where the company had been led my men and it was doing well, 62% of the students voted for the male candidate. In the second case, the same male-led company was going through a financial crisis and 69% students voted for the female candidate. Living examples of Glass Cliff situations are the female CEOs of Hewlett Packard, Lucent and Alcatel-Lucent, WHSMITH, Sunoco and Yahoo, all elected during tough times in previously male-led companies. Glass Cliff and Glass Ceiling are not seen in companies with a history of female leaders


What are Glass Ceiling and Glass Cliff?


The term, “Glass Ceiling” refers to an invisible barrier to women for high-level leadership roles. The term was first used in 1984 in an article written by two women working at Hewlett-Packard where they said although it seemed like there was a clear path for promotion, in reality women seemed to be stuck at one point beyond which they could not progress. After Carly Fiorina became HP’s CEO, she withdrew this statement and recommended that there was no glass ceiling. US Department of Labor talked about the existence of Glass Ceiling again in 1991 during a study of nine Fortune 500 companies. The study concluded that women/minorities faced Glass Ceiling barriers at one point or another in their careers.


Glass Cliff indicates a high risk for failure situation. This term originated in UK in 2004. Professors Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam of University of Exeter coined this term following a research that showed: after breaking through the Glass Ceiling women often end up on Glass Cliff. 


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