Avoid falling off the glass cliff

How to avoid falling off the glass cliff

If you’re a woman in business, you’ve probably heard about and experienced the glass ceiling. But have you heard about the glass cliff?

Women have been making huge strides in business, from getting more degrees than men to securing business loans for startups. They’re also managing to shatter the glass ceiling, climbing to the top of the corporate ladders at the world’s top companies.


Unfortunately, once women shatter this proverbial glass ceiling, research shows that many times they are then introduced to the glass cliff. The glass cliff is the phenomenon where women are promoted to top positions during company strife, when risk of failure is greatest.

Discovered in 2004, the glass ceiling is still extremely prevalent in companies today. In fact, the number of women who lead top Fortune 500 companies has actually declined – today, only 4.8 percent are led by women.

The glass ceiling sees women take leadership positions when a company is underperforming or experiencing a culture crisis. Once a woman is put on the board or at the helm, statistically she will be 45 percent more likely to be ousted than her male counterparts. Women are also given less time to turn things around and more likely to be challenged by male stakeholders. Once a woman is dismissed from the top of a company, she’s also less likely to get picked up by another company.

One popular example of the glass cliff is Carly Fiorina. She was appointed as CEO at Hewlett-Packard as a transformational leader during a time of low performance. She was able to jump stock prices up 6.5 percent until the dot-com bubble burst. She made a controversial decision to pursue a merger and lay off 30,000 employees. After a fight with board member Walter Hewlett, Carly was fired. Afterwards, the board acknowledged her merger would have been the right move.

Some other popular examples include Jill Abramson formerly of the New York Times and Carol Bartz, formerly of Yahoo.

The best way to avoid the glass cliff is to prepare for it. Here are a few actionable tips you can take to avoid falling off:

  1. Know your company numbers: You don’t want to discover your company is performing poorly after you’ve accepted a promotion. Always stay on top of your industry trends, company standings, and issues impacting your field so you don’t get surprised with a big mess.
  2. Believe in yourself: If you can make decisions confidently, you’ll be a more trusted leader. In fact one study showed that decisiveness, rather than results, makes you 12x more likely to be considered a high-performing executive.
  3. Define success before you accept: If your company IS in crisis, but you want to take on the challenge, have the board lay out their expectations ahead of time. From there, you can negotiate what you think are fair measurements of your performance. You can even reference glass cliff research in these negotiations and get all of the boards expectations in writing.

Check out this infographic from Fundera below for more ways to navigate the glass cliff.

Avoid falling off the glass cliff infographic

Do you have any more tips for helping women avoid falling off the glass cliff? Let us know in the comments below.

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