Sunday, November 24, 2013

Women, Minorities, and the Glass Cliff

Women Minorities and the Glass CliffHas your Board of Directors been setting women and minorities up for failure in the C-Suite?  This is a somewhat controversial topic that some are calling the “Glass Cliff” effect.  What have you seen in your workplace?  As always, please feel free to leave a comment or suggestion down below about your own experiences.

Women, Minorities, and the “Glass Cliff” 

By now, most of you have heard of the “Glass Ceiling”, which is a term used for the difficulty faced by women and minorities trying to reach the top of the corporate ladder.  However, the phrase “Glass Cliff” is a term more recently added to the workplace lexicon.  Recent studies by Utah State University have confirmed previous studies showing a discrepancy between the quality of promotional opportunities at the highest levels of corporations.  This is to mean that women and minorities have been found to be disproportionally promoted into senior leadership positions when a company is having the most difficulty.

In other words, it could appear that women and minorities have been “set up for failure” by being given the reins of an organization in free fall, just as a company reached a crisis.

Researchers also found that after a company has hit bottom and stagnated after a crisis, a “savior effect” was noticed.  This was where a disproportionate number of white males were promoted to bring these failed organizations back to profitability.  Fewer women and minorities were selected for these easier wins.

Biases in the Selection Process

The Glass Cliff appears to be partially created by subconscious biases of the boards.  These have been backed by a series of Psychological studies done and summarized in an interesting report by Michel Ryan and A. Alexander Haslam of the University of Exeter.  In one example, they found that boards of directors tended to think of men when they thought of “management” but tended to think of women when they thought of “crisis”.

There has could be some disagreement about the bias.  Some have argued that Women and Minorities self-selected those organizational positions atop the cliff; that they chose to accept the most difficult assignments where white males would decline a similar position when offered in the midst of a crisis.

However, that is not the case.  Three independent surveys were completed comparing the selection of men and women to lead a company in crisis.  In all three surveys, women were selected for leadership only when an organization was in decline.  For minorities, it was shown in one study of high political office that black candidates were typically selected as an opposition candidate when there was a highly popular incumbent and the seat was considered hard-to-win.  This result was also duplicated in studies within the corporate environment.

Solutions to the Glass Cliff

To find a solution, first people need to be aware that the problem exists.  Fortunately, awareness of the cliff is growing.  In a 2004 CNN poll, the question was asked “Does the glass cliff exist?”  72% of respondents said yes.  One of the Utah researchers, Alison Cook, has said that HR representative need to be “encouraging boards of directors to top into social professional networks outside their immediate networks”.  These boards should be mindful of Disparate Impact when following internal selection processes in choosing new CEOs.  Consider Women and Minorities outside of your circles when your companies are improving, not only when they are in decline or in crisis-mode.  The Exeter researchers concluded that the other ways to eliminate these Glass Cliffs is for firms to adopt non-token affirmative action policies and active mentoring programs to help raise the group-consciousness of this effect.  Over time, it will help to dissolve the cliff and allow boards to be more fair in their selections for C-Suite positions.

What are you seeing in your organization?  Is anything being done to combat the Glass Cliff?

And remember all of you Human Resources professionals:  Be Human... Be a Resource...  Be a Resource for Humans.

Interesting Links:

Interesting Reading:
“Watch Out for the ‘Glass Cliff’” by Antonio Franquz, HR Magazine, Sept. 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are by the author Trevor Stasik, and do not necessarily reflect the views of any employer or any other organization. Trevor Stasik is the owner of this post, may or may not receive compensation resulting from this writing, and retains the copyright of any original material presented in this post herein. Please note, this information is based on my understanding and is only to be used for informational and educational purposes. Do not take what I am writing as advice. Seek your own legal counsel and/or see a tax accountant before making business or personal decisions. The author of this post makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information in this post, on this site, or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.

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