A new report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has found that women are more likely to be offered leadership positions in poorly performing FTSE 100 companies.
The report explored the ‘glass cliff’ phenomenon, in which women are preferentially selected for more risky leadership roles, associated with crisis management.
It rebuffed a 1993 story in The Times, which observed that women were more likely to lead poorly performing companies and said women “wreaked havoc on companies’ performance and share prices”.
The CIPD report found companies appointing men to boards of directors typically had stable share price performance both before and after appointments. In contrast, companies appointing a woman had experienced consistently poor performance before the appointment.
“Women are more likely than men to find themselves on a glass cliff, in that their positions of leadership are associated with greater risk of failure. If and when that failure occurs, it’s often women who must face the consequences and who are singled out for criticism and blame,” the report said.
Some women use ‘glass cliff’ positions as an opportunity to prove their worth. The report suggested that for women, such positions are perceived as good career opportunities, while for men they are not as good as opportunities within stable companies.
A person quoted in the report said, “A woman has fewer and fewer employment opportunities the higher she climbs the career ladder, so she is willing to take a job, even if it is risky. A man, on the other hand, would have a number of job opportunities to choose from. Therefore, he would select the best one.”
The report said that ‘glass cliff’ positions can be dangerous, as they are associated with negative publicity and criticism if company performance remains poor. However women who manage to turn companies around do not necessarily get rewarded, instead being offered further ‘glass cliff’ positions. One interviewee said,
“I was personally promoted into a difficult management role (where a previous male manager had failed) with the hope that I would turn it around. When I did, the ‘reward’ was to be moved to another turnaround role – without any additional financial reward or kudos. Meanwhile, male peers appear to work less hard (fewer hours), in maintenance roles – and with greater reward. I often wonder if I’m just a fool to accept such challenges. I doubt that the men would.”
The report advised women to be realistic about leadership opportunities they’re offered.
“It’s sensible to ensure that a position is the golden opportunity it promises to be, rather than being a golden chalice. Be cautious you’re not being ‘set up’ to fail.”
It recommended networking and mentoring as important sources of support for women in ‘glass cliff’ positions.
You can download the whole report here.