All businesses suffer from natural biases. These prejudices frequently prevent women from reaching the upper echelon of business leadership. This is commonly referred to as the glass ceiling.
If you’re able to break through and attain an executive role, you should be aware of the glass cliff. Many times, when a company is going through a period of turmoil, women are appointed to leadership positions when the risk of failure is highest.
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What is the Glass Cliff?
A 2005 study by Ryan and Haslam showed that high-level women employees are often promoted during a time of crisis. The women placed in these positions are set up to fail, as they are likely to be fired if the company doesn’t recover quickly. This phenomenon became known as “The Glass Cliff”.
The glass cliff doesn’t only exist for Fortune 500 companies. Businesses of all sizes suffer from these biases. In order to enact real change, we must acknowledge the issue that exists and educate people on how to avoid it in the future.
In a 2013 study, Alison Cook and Christy Glass found that the appointment of women CEOs traditionally followed poor company performance. Frequently, the company will use this appointment to signal a change in direction following a period of lower-than-expected sales or growth.
The fact that women are 45% more likely to be fired than their male counterparts only adds fuel to the fire. These women CEOs are oftentimes replaced by white men, a situation that Cook and Glass called “the savior effect”.
Why do high-achieving women take on these seemingly impossible roles? There’s a lack of opportunities for women at the executive level. Only 33 of the Fortune 500 companies, or 6.6%, have a female CEO. For women looking to advance their careers, these risky roles provide the chance to show their leadership skills and make a huge impact.
How to Navigate the Glass Cliff
If you’re able to break through the glass ceiling, there are steps you can take to avoid falling off the glass cliff.
Stay up to Date
If you’re up to date on industry trends and aware of the health of your company, you’ll be more prepared to assess the risk associated with the role. In this situation, a strong network will also be beneficial. Your trusted colleagues can provide guidance and insight you can use when making your final decision.
Include Risk in Compensation Negotiations
If you’ve assessed the job offer and decided it’s risky, you can secure a competitive salary. You should ask for more than the initial offer and use the risk associated with the position as a negotiation point. Men are four times more likely than women to negotiate their salary. The extra compensation you secured during negotiation could come in handy if you find yourself unemployed after a short stint.
Define Success before Acceptance
Besides compensation, the definition of success should be made clear during negotiations. This is incredibly important if the company is performing poorly. You should ask questions like: How will the board measure success?
What is a fair turnaround time? Has this position been offered to anyone else, and if so, why did they reject it? These questions will help you determine if success is achievable, or if you are being set up for failure.
Use your Unique Position to your Advantage
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of women executives. Being a woman in this male-dominated space can be used to your advantage. Women outperform men in 11 out of 12 emotional intelligence competencies proven to impact business performance.
Believe in Yourself
If you do accept a risky top leadership position, believe in yourself and be decisive. Decisiveness makes you 12 times more likely to be considered a high-performing executive.
Build a Network
Building a strong network is important for everyone. However, when assessing a potentially career-altering role, a supportive network is vital. Having people you trust both in and out of the organization will help you determine if the promotion is worth the risk.
Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away
There’s only so much risk you can tolerate. If all the signs point to the position being doomed from the start, walk away. While it can be a great chance to show you have what it takes to lead a company, it could also be the end of any executive aspirations. Fired women CEOs don’t often get hired to lead another company.
For more information on how to avoid the glass cliff, check out the infographic from Fundera.