Forget the Glass Ceiling – Worry about the Glass Cliff!

Ten years ago, a New York Times article implicated that poor company performance was caused by the female top executives in those firms. But two years later, researchers in the U.K. were able to provide evidence of what many suspected; failing companies were hiring women as leaders to try and improve the situation.  This became known as the “Glass Ceiling” phenomenon, particularly happening when the company crisis was “characterized by internal struggles and a lack of support within the organization” (Rink, Ryan & Stoker, 2013, p.1). Female executives were perceived to have more interpersonal skills, be more communicative, understanding and cooperative than male leaders.  It would seem that this stereotype is believed not only by those hiring, but by those women taking the risky position. Both were guided by an internalization of broad societal gender beliefs (Rink, Ryan & Stoker, 2013, p. 3).

This has profound implications for women who now account for 51% of those employed in the U.S. as managers and professionals (Johnson, 2012, p. 364) and for the organizational leaders who hire them. Firms should be aware of the glass cliff phenomenon and self-stereotyping when searching for new leaders to guide them through a crisis. Professional networking and leaders mentoring professional women for leadership can encourage correct self-evaluation of abilities and God given talents, which go beyond interpersonal skills.  This can encourage the innovation, creativity, and better decision making that diverse leadership brings, giving companies the competitive edge needed to flourish again (Phillips & Gully, 2012, p.43).


Johnson, C. E. (2012). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow. (4th ed.).

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Phillips, J. M. & Gully, S. M. (2012). Organizational behavior: Tools for success. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Rink, F., Ryan, M. & Stoker, J. (2013, April 15). Are female leaders constantly tapped for crises? Diversity Executive.

Retrieved from