By knowing that the glass cliff exists, we can not only avoid falling off it, but climb above it.
By Amanda Marcovitch, Forbes guest writer
As women, we shouldn’t solely strive to shatter the glass ceiling. We must also avoid tumbling down the glass cliff. What’s the glass cliff, you ask? British comedian Sandi Toksvig explained it best: ‘It’s a case of men going, ‘Wow, it can’t get any worse, quick, let’s put a woman in charge!’
In other words: we ask women to save drowning companies and compare them to men who lead steady ones. It’s a downward spiral. When women can’t magically save struggling companies, society reaffirms their belief that women can’t lead and it’s best to have white, male CEOs in charge. This isn’t an exaggeration: in a 15-year study, researchers found that a female CEO succeeded another female CEO in only four of the 608 transitions at Fortune 500 companies. [And while no similar study exists in the public sector, as with other comparisons, this is likely true for local government women as well.]
For example, many critics claim Marissa Mayer was a victim of the glass cliff. After becoming Yahoo’s sixth CEO in a five year period, she inherited an under-performing company and faced mounting pressure to turn it around. After Mayer failed to make Yahoo relevant against Google and Facebook, she resigned and critics saw it as a reflection of her effort instead of her environment. Lo and behold, Yahoo appointed Thomas McInerney to replace Mayer as CEO.
The ‘glass cliff effect’ has gotten so bad that new research from the University of Missouri reveals that investors are more likely to target female CEOs and buy shares of their companies with an intent to direct management decisions. “These findings lend more credence to the idea that women are treated differently than men when they are given leadership positions,” said University of Missouri Professor Daniel Turban, who authored the research paper. So what does that mean for you? And how can we change the tides of gender bias? Now that we understand the glass cliff, I want to share three tips on how avoid it from Talia Bensoussan, previously a head recruiter at Target.
1. Don’t Be Afraid To Say No
Saying no can be the ultimate form of self-respect. It’s a way to guard yourself against opportunities that seem super, but may soon sour. Half the battle of success is how you set yourself up. If you take a job that asks you to accomplish the impossible, you might do it. Or you might fall off the glass cliff. That’s what many female tech executives did in rejecting the offer to become Uber’s CEO in 2017. With a $40+ billion valuation, Uber seemed like a career catapult for any leader. With sexual allegations and security breaches, Uber was perhaps another glass cliff waiting to happen. This may be one of the many reasons female leaders turned down the position, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.
2. Define Success Before You Take The Job
If you’re going to take the job, make sure you do it on your terms. When you’re recruited, remember that you have leverage. That doesn’t just mean negotiating a higher base salary and equity package. That means sitting down with your future employer and quantifying what success can look like in coming years. That way, you’re not suddenly asked to do the impossible when you take the job. Many times, female leaders accomplish their vision of success but fall short of what the company wanted. Clearing this confusion from the onset will help you avoid the glass cliff.
3. Leave Your Ivory Tower
Once you’re in the job, make sure you don’t seclude yourself in your office. The truth is that most executives don’t see catastrophes coming until it’s too late. To combat this, it’s important to develop relationships across the company regardless of seniority so you’re aware of the problems you need to fix. Developing these connections gives you greater influence and access to information. If you’re a senior leader, it’s easy to solely socialize with your peer group. Instead, adopt an open door policy, have office hours, and host “lunch and learns” with young professionals who can be your eyes and ears to tell you what’s really happening at the company. That way, you can be more effective in getting the job done and reaching success.
While we’re not all contemplating CEO positions for Fortune 500 companies, we can still learn from these lessons to avoid the glass cliff as we rise in our careers. That could mean saying no to an unreasonable job offer or defining clear expectations when you step in. The point is: knowledge is empowering. By knowing that the glass cliff exists, we can not only avoid falling off it, but climb above it.
Amanda Marcovitch is a part-time writer who has managed some of San Francisco’s most iconic buildings, including the historic Yelp building and the TransAmerica Pyramid with Cushman & Wakefield. This wasn’t always the case. Self proclaimed, “I had track record of job hopping, rocky relationships and average grades. After being told I had no direction in my career, I took risks to uproot my life by moving far beyond my comfort zone. My mission is to inspire women with confidence, determination and support to show their haters what they’re really made of. When I’m not managing high-rises, you can find me skiing in the mountains, teaching Corepower Yoga or taking UX/UI design classes.” You can follow Amanda on Twitter @OfficeSpaceRep.
Reprinted with permission