Glass cliff

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about workplace discrimination. For the similarly named developmental psychology experiment, see Visual cliff.

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


Ryan and Haslam's 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 organizations (or 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]

The glass cliff concept has also been used to describe employment discrimination experienced by leaders who are members of minorities or disabled.[4] Evidence of the phenomenon has been documented in fields of business, politics, law, public service, education and sport.

Specific examples of the glass cliff that have been widely discussed in the media include:

• The hiring and ultimate "ousting" of editor Jill Abramson by New York Times.[5]

• The hiring of Mary Barra as CEO at General Motors [6]

• The hiring of Janet Yellen to head the US Federal Reserve[7]

• The appointment of various women to clean up the Icelandic banking industry after the 2008 crisis [8]

• The appointment of Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence as state premiers in Australia;[9] the appointment and subsequent ousting of Julia Gillard as Australia's first female prime minister[10]

• The hiring and firing of Ina Drew as CIO at Morgan Chase and a range of other female banking executives[11][12]

• The appointment of Marissa Mayer at Yahoo[13]


Michelle Ryan is Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology in the College of Life Sciences at the University of Exeter.

Alex Haslam is Professor of Psychology and Australian Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland and former editor of the European Journal of Social Psychology.

In 2005 Ryan and Haslam's 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.[14] Their research into the glass cliff has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the European Social Fund, and the Economic and Social Research Council.


  1. ^ The Glass Cliff
  2. ^ The Glass Cliff
  3. ^ BBC NEWS | Magazine | Introducing... the glass cliff
  4. ^ Cook, A., A.; Glass, C. "Glass Cliffs and Organizational Saviors: Barriers to Minority Leadership in Work Organizations?". Social Problems 60 (2): 168–187. doi:10.1525/sp.2013.11147. 
  5. ^ Kurzleben, Danielle (May 14, 2014). "What happened to Jill Abramson shows everything that sucks about being a woman leader". Retrieved May 15, 2014. 
  6. ^ Trop, Jaclyn. "Is Mary Barra standing on a glass cliff?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  7. ^ Salas Gage, Caroline. "Yellen Poised to Rival Obama With Financial Power". Bloomberg. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  8. ^ Sunderland, Ruth. "After the crash, Iceland's women lead the rescue". The Observer. Retrieved May 22, 2014. 
  9. ^ Range, Jae Lynn. "No Glass Ceiling for Women? Beware Of The Glass Cliff!". 
  10. ^ Wareham McGrath, Susan. "The Glass Cliff Claims Another Victim – Was Julia Gillard’s Fall From Grace Inevitable?". Australian Businesswomen's Network. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  11. ^ Covert, Bryce. "Was JP Morgan Chase's CIO Ina Drew Pushed Off the Glass Cliff?". Forbes. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Goudreau, Jenna. "With JPMorgan Chase's Ina Drew Out, Few Top Wall Street Women Left Standing". Forbes. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  13. ^ Hass, Nancy. "Marissa Mayer Stares Down ‘Glass Cliff’ at Yahoo". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  14. ^ Wilson-Kovacs, Dana (2008). Disability & Society 23 (7): 705–717. doi:10.1525/sp.2013.11147. 

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.
  • Haslam, S. A., Ryan, M. K., Kulich, C., Trojanowski, G., & Atkins, C. (2010). Investing with prejudice: The relationship between women’s presence on company boards and objective and subjective measures of company performance. British Journal of Management, 21, 484-497.
  • 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.
  • Kulich, C., Ryan, M. K., & Haslam, S. A. (2014). The Political Glass Cliff: Understanding How Seat Selection Contributes to the Underperformance of Ethnic Minority Candidates. Political Research Quarterly, 67(1), 84-95.
  • Cook, A., & Glass, C. (2014). Women and Top Leadership Positions: Towards an Institutional Analysis. Gender, Work & Organization, 21(1), 91-103. doi:10.1111/gwao.12018
  • Cook, A., & Glass, C. (2013). Glass Cliffs and Organizational Saviors: Barriers to Minority Leadership in Work Organizations?. Social Problems, 60(2), 168-187. doi:10.1525/sp.2013.11147
  • Wilson-Kovacs, D., Ryan, M. K., Haslam, S. A., & Rabinovich, A. (2008). 'Just because you can get a wheelchair in the building doesn't necessarily mean that you can still participate': barriers to the career advancement of disabled professionals. Disability & Society, 23(7), 705-717. doi:10.1080/09687590802469198