Glass cliff

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A glass cliff is a term coined by Prof Michelle Ryan and Prof Alex Haslam of University of Exeter, 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 those of their male counterparts. More specifically, women are more likely to occupy positions that are precarious and thus have a higher risk of failure - either because they are appointed to lead organizational units that are in crisis or because they are not given the resources and support needed for success.[1]

Extending the metaphor of the glass ceiling, Ryan and Haslam evoke the notion of the ‘glass cliff’ to refer to a danger which involves exposure to risk of falling but which is not readily apparent.[2] "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."[3]


Michelle Ryan is a Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology in the College of Life Sciences at the University of Exeter. Alex Haslam is a Professor of Psychology at University of Queensland and former editor of the European Journal of Social Psychology. Their research into the glass cliff has been 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. It also featured in New York Times Magazine's Top 100 Ideas of 2008.


Further reading[edit]

  • Ryan, M. K., & Haslam, S. A. (2005). The Glass Cliff: Evidence that women are over-represented in precarious leadership positions. British Journal of Management, 16, 81-90.
  • Ryan, M. K., & Haslam, S. A. (2007). The Glass Cliff: Exploring the dynamics surrounding the appointment of women precarious leadership positions. Academy of Management Review, 32, 549-572.
  • Haslam, S. A., & Ryan, M. K. (2008). The road to the glass cliff: Differences in the perceived suitability of men and women for leadership positions in succeeding and failing organizations. Leadership Quarterly, 19, 530-546.
  • Bruckmüller, S., & Branscombe, N. R. (2010). The glass cliff: When and why women are selected as leaders in crisis contexts. British Journal of Social Psychology, 49, 433-451.
  • Brescoll, V. L., Dawson, E., and Uhlmann, E. L. (2010). Hard won and easily lost: The fragile status of leaders in gender-stereotype-incongruent occupations. Psychological Science, 21, 1640-1642.
  • Ryan, M. K., Haslam, S. A., Kulich, C. (2010). Politics and the glass cliff: Evidence that women are preferentially selected to contest hard-to-win seats. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 56–64.
  • Ryan, M. K., Haslam, S. A., Hersby, M. D. & Bongiorno, R. (2011). Think crisis–think female: The glass cliff and contextual variation in the think manager–think male stereotype. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96, 470-484.