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Glass cliff

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A glass cliff is a term coined by Prof Michelle Ryan and Prof Alex Haslam of Exeter University, United Kingdom, in 2004.

Their research demonstrates that once women break through the glass ceiling and take on positions of leadership they often have experiences that are different from their male counterparts. More specifically, women are more likely to occupy positions that can be described as precarious and thus have a higher risk of failure - either because they are in organizational units that are in crisis or because they are not given the resources and support needed for success. Extending the metaphor of the glass ceiling, they evoke the metaphor of the ‘glass cliff’ to capture the subtlety to the phenomenon and feeling of teetering on the edge. [1]

Michelle Ryan is an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Exeter. Alex Haslam is a Professor of Psychology at University of Exeter and editor of the European Journal of Social Psychology. Their research into the glass cliff is funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the European Social Fund, and the Economic and Social Research Council.

In 2005 research into the glass cliff was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education's Research Project of the Year and featured in New York Times Magazine's Ideas of 2008.

"It therefore appears that after having broken through a glass ceiling women are actually more likely than men to find themselves on a "glass cliff", meaning their positions of leadership are risky or precarious." [2]

Research suggests that when women are elected to leadership positions it tends to be when organizations are in crisis[citation needed]. This observation is supported by laboratory studies where both sexes show a bias for selecting females to take charge of fictitious organizations in a crisis.[citation needed]


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