Sunday 8 March 2015

The Glass Cliff & Gender Stereotypes

There is one research topics on my MSc in Organisational Psychology course that has shocked and fascinated me in equal measure; gender issues in the workplace. Here, I will introduce the concepts of the 'glass cliff', 'Think Crisis Think Female' and share some thought provoking resources.  

Most people have heard of the 'glass ceiling' which is the invisible barrier preventing women from achieving senior leadership roles. The 'glass cliff' is when  women are put in precarious and risky leadership positions.  There is research to show that companies who appointed women to their boards were more likely to have experienced consistently bad performance in the preceding five months than those who appointed men. 

Research on a related concept shows that people usually "Think Manager Think Male (TMTM)" and "Think Crisis Think Female (TCTF)."  Here the evidence suggest that women may be favoured in times of poor organisational performance, not because they are expected to improve the situation, but because they are seen to be good people managers and can take the blame for organizational failure.

What's to be done?  There is a responsibility for us all to be aware of gender stereotypes, challenge those stereotypes and raise awareness.

For example I was speaking to a friend who told me that whilst waiting for a senior management meeting to begin, she was discussing an agenda item with a female colleague. The male chair of the meeting arrived and asked them to 'stop clucking'. They did ask if he would have said the same to male colleagues.

Here are those resources which show how ingrained gender stereotyping is in our culture:

Man Vs Pink - is a brilliant blog from Simon Ragoonanan, "stay-at-home dad blogger. Loves his daughter. Hates pinkification."

Pew Research Center - read about recent research which explores the reasons behind the lack of women at the top of government and business in the US.

And finally, here's a great blog from - let toys be toys for girls and boys. It highlights gender stereotypes in a homework assignment. In short - the homework required the kids to research a famous scientist or inventor.  The accompanying questions included 'What were his discoveries?', 'Why was he famous?' and 'Did they have a wife and family?'



Ryan, M. K., Haslam, S. A., Hersby, M. D., & Bongiorno, R. (2011). Think crisis–think female: The glass cliff and contextual variation in the think manager–think male stereotype. Journal Of Applied Psychology96(3), 470-484. doi:10.1037/a0022133

Ryan, M. K., & Haslam, S. A. (2005). The Glass Cliff: Evidence that Women are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions.British Journal Of Management16(2), 81-90. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8551.2005.00433.x


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