Women in business and the glass cliff – are they brought in to deal with crisis and set up to fail?

Women in business and the glass cliff – are they brought in to deal with crisis and set up to fail?

The glass cliff theory is something of a new-ish phenomenon… Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam (professors at Exeter University) coined the phrase in 2005, further to their research on particular groups of people, being brought in to hold leadership positions during times of crisis, where the chance of success is limited.

Gill Plimmer of the The Financial Times, wrote an interesting article today about the glass cliff and with the UK in ‘crisis’ with the unexpected Brexit vote, Professor Ryan spoke to the FT about the recent appointment of Theresa May stating that:

“She will be in the position of not being able to please anyone. No matter what she does on the European Union question, 50 per cent of the population are going to be happy and the other 50 per cent unhappy.”

Our CEO Jenny Campbell believes that if the glass cliff theory is an actual reality, it will deter great female leaders from competing for leadership positions, however there needs to be an element of caution, that the theory doesn’t become a generalisation. Jenny was brought into YourCash (then Hanco ATMs and Royal Bank of Scotland owned) when the business was facing crisis, and she is adamant that her appointment was based on her experience and capability to instil change, rather than her gender. She goes on to say:

“Female leaders that haven’t succeeded in business are more visible and more likely to be put under the microscope simply because they are female,”

So if we look at the likes of Harriet Green, ex CEO of Thomas Cook, Mary Barra, CEO General Motors and Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, it would seem that they were brought in to be the face of business, during time of crisis, and based on the results from these appointments, we have to ask is there a genuine trend to appoint women to high status, high risk roles, with the expectation that ultimately they will fail?

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