Don’t Fall Off the Glass Cliff

By: Joe Keenan

Much has been made about the lack of women in C-level positions at Fortune 500 companies — and in particular, retail companies. Less has been made about the fact that on the rare occasions women ascend to these top positions that they’re more likely to be fired than their male counterparts. The phenomenon has been termed the “glass cliff” by a pair of psychology professors — Michelle Ryan, Alexander Haslam — who did research on the subject.

Further research in 2013 from consulting firm Strategy& found a higher percentage of female CEOs (38 percent) were forced out, compared with men (27 percent). Its research included analyzing 2,500 public companies over the previous 10 years. One reason, according to the report, is that female CEOs are more likely than men to be hired from outside the company, and outsiders are more often forced out than insiders.

Companies are more likely to turn to women from outside their ranks for leadership positions because women are perceived to possess traits that are critical in crises — the ability to communicate, empathize and think outside the box, asserts Shirley Leung in a Boston Globe column last week. She cites examples such as Virginia Rometty of IBM, Mary Barra of General Motors and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo as women who have been brought in to rescue sinking ships.

What’s the solution to this problem? Gary Neilson, one of the author’s of the Strategy& report, believes it’s the responsibility of companies to develop a pipeline of future leaders. He says it’s a bad sign that women are more frequently brought in from the outside because “that means many companies aren’t developing women from the inside.”

What’s your company doing to promote future leaders, and women leaders in particular? What are you doing personally? Do you believe in career mentoring? And if so, have you either been mentored or served as a mentor? What was/is that experience like for you? Let us know by posting your comments below.

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