Biases are natural, even for businesses. Unfortunately, these prejudices often stop women from reaching the upper echelon of business leadership. This is commonly known as the glass ceiling. If you’re one of the lucky few to break through and attain an executive role, you should be aware of the glass cliff. Frequently, when a company is going through a rough patch, women are appointed to leadership positions, when the risk of failure is highest.
What is the Glass Cliff?
In 2005, Michelle Ryan and Alexander Haslam conducted a study that showed that during times of crisis high-level women employees are often promoted. The women that receive these promotions are set up for failure; they are likely to be fired if the company doesn’t recover quickly. This became known as “The Glass Cliff”.
The glass cliff doesn’t only exist for Fortune 500 companies. Businesses of all sizes suffer from these biases. In order to enact real change, we must acknowledge the issue exists and educate people on how to avoid it in the future.
Alison Cook and Christy Glass conducted a study in 2013 that found the appointment of women CEOs traditionally followed poor company performance. Oftentimes, the company will use the appointment of a woman CEO to signal a philosophy change following a period of poor performance.
Knowing that women are 45% more likely to be fired than their male counterparts only adds fuel to the fire. These women CEOs are frequently replaced by white men, a situation that Cook and Glass called “the savior effect”.
Why do women take on these seemingly doomed roles? There’s a lack of opportunities for women at the executive level. Only 33 Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO. For women looking to advance their careers, these risky roles provide the chance to show their leadership skills and make a huge impact.
How to Navigate the Glass Cliff
If you’re able to successfully shatter the glass ceiling, here are some steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of the glass cliff.
Stay up to Date
If you’re up to date on industry trends and aware of the health of your company, you’ll be more prepared to assess the risk associated with the role. In this situation, a strong network will also be beneficial. Your trusted colleagues can provide guidance and insight you can use when making your final decision.
Include Risk in Compensation Negotiations
After you’ve received the job offer and decided it’s risky, make sure to secure a competitive salary. You should ask for more than the initial offer, and use the risk associated with the position as a point of negotiation. Men are four times more likely than women to negotiate their salary. The extra compensation you secured during negotiation could come in handy if you find yourself unemployed after a short stint.
Define Success before Acceptance
In addition to compensation, the definition of success should be made clear during negotiations. This is especially important if the company has had a recent run of poor performance. You should ask questions like: How will the board measure success? What is a fair turnaround time? Has this position been offered to anyone else, and if so, why did they reject it? These questions will help you determine if success is achievable, or if you are being set up for failure.
Use your Unique Position to your Advantage
The cold hard truth is that there aren’t a lot of women executives. Use the position of being a woman in a male-dominated space to your advantage. Women outperform men in 11 out of 12 emotional intelligence competencies proven to impact business performance.
Believe in your Abilities
If you do accept a risky top leadership position, believe in yourself and be decisive. Decisiveness makes you 12 times more likely to be considered a high performing executive.
Build a Network
A strong network benefits everyone, regardless of position or experience level. However, when assessing a potentially career-altering role, a supportive network is vital. Having people you trust both in and out of the organization will help you determine if the promotion is worth the risk.
Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away
Risk is only tolerable to a certain point. If there’s nothing but red flags pointing to the position being doomed from the start, walk away. While it can be a great chance to show you have what it takes to lead a company, it could also be the end of any executive aspirations. Fired women CEOs don’t often get hired to lead another company.
For more information on how to avoid the glass cliff, check out the infographic from Fundera below!
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