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"Glass Ceilings" morph into "Glass Cliffs"

November 25, 2016

 

As a female leader, I've become well versed in the glass ceiling concept. Heck, I've lived it. The barriers for women to move up in organizations are not just perceived. The data speaks for itself.

 

Just take a look at the gender pay gap. The simple truth? Even though we've talked about it for years, the pay gap has not budged in a decade. 2013 data shows that in a comparison of full-time, year round workers, women earn 78 cents on the dollar to men. In some states, that differs, such as Washington DC where women earn 91 cents on the dollar, as compared to Louisiana where it drops on average to 66 cents on the dollar.

We can talk color. We can talk occupation. We can talk education level. We can talk age. And we can even talk women with children vs. those without. At the end of the day, it's all about inequity. But it doesn't stop at the ceiling.

 

Earlier today I was introduced to glass cliffs.

 

As the presenter defined it and I shook my head, he acknowledged that it's a no brainer! The glass cliff is for those women who broke through the ceiling and emerged into roles where they are more apt to be pushed off a cliff faster and harder than a man would. Or to put it another way - women are more apt to break through the ceiling when an organization is in crisis. Fascinating concept.

 

In its February 2011 article "How Women End up on the Glass Cliff," Harvard Business Review authors Bruckmuller and Branscombe reported the following: "We found that when a company is doing well, people prefer leaders with stereotypically male strengths, but when a company is in crisis, they think stereotypically female skills are needed to turn things around. Accordingly, most participants (67%) chose the man to head the successful company, while the majority (63%) thought the woman should take over the company in crisis."

 

With the crisis comes more work, more attention to change, more challenges, longer to see the fruits of one's hard work, higher stakes...so let's get it done.

 

The other obvious points are the stakes mean a mistake is more apt to cause her her job. Or she will be described as "bossy" or "brusque" when a man in a similar situation might be "innovative" or "take charge." So why share this concept? Because the more we are familiar with it, the more we are aware of it and celebrate when women take the helm of businesses, schools, and districts with more solid footing.

 

Let's all hope we get more accustomed to seeing women in top roles, and may the equitable pay follow.

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