Imagine being promoted to a C-Suite position in your company. You’re excited and proud. Although there will be some challenges, you’re confident that you’ll figure everything out in time.
However, months go by, and you feel like you’re drowning. Your job has become overwhelming and demanding, and you feel like you are losing control. Then one day, you get called into an office and are fired because you didn’t perform to expectations.
This scenario is known as a glass cliff. It may seem shocking, but it’s happened to many women. And if you’re focused on climbing the career ladder, here is how to not fall into this invisible ledge.
What Is The Glass Cliff, And Why Is It A Barrier To Black Women’s Success?
You may have heard of the glass ceiling, which refers to the barriers preventing women from advancing to senior-level positions. Unlike the glass ceiling, the glass cliff allows women to advance. But it sets them up for failure in the future. Typically occurring amongst minority women and sometimes non-white males, who are put into high-level positions during a time of crisis or hardships. Thus increasing their chances of failure in their new role.
The term, glass cliff, comes from research at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom. They found that assigning mainly women to a role where they are most likely to fail is similar to having someone stand on the edge of a cliff. It increases their chances of falling.
Along with putting women in a compromising position, the glass cliff also helps perpetuate stereotypes of women. Michelle Ryan, the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at the Australian National University, shared that the glass cliff reinforces the idea that women aren’t good in leadership roles. “If women are in risky and precarious positions, their performance might be evaluated more negatively, and hence the cycle of inequality continues.”
This perception is particularly damaging to black women. Regardless of age, marital status, or the number of children, black women have had the highest levels of labor market participation. Despite this, in 2020, the wage gap between black women and white men was 64 cents for every $1.
Black women are working more and getting paid less. They are working hard to prove themselves worthy of different opportunities and positions. Thus black women become overworked and suffer from mental and physical stress.
Why Does The Glass Ceiling Happen?
Putting someone in a leadership role only to have them fail can seem counterproductive. Yet research reveals there are three main motives for doing so. One is simply prejudice against certain groups. The second reason involves the company’s political parties wanting to show the world they are open to change and innovation. The last main reason is people stereotypically think that female traits are helpful during a crisis.
Regardless of the reason, what inevitably happens is that a white man will be put into the position to replace the previously appointed women. This action is often referred to as the “ savior effect”; perpetuating the idea that white men must come in and save the day.
Why And How To Avoid The Glass Ceiling
The glass cliff is an obvious career move to avoid. However, ambition may convince you to prove those that doubted you wrong and try to save the burning house. Yet accepting a promotion when you suspect it might be a glass cliff situation can have long-term consequences.
If you manage to handle the crisis well, it sets false expectations. It communicates that you can work under extreme pressure, which no one should be asked to do. It creates an expectation that you’ll be required to handle high-risk situations continuously and must prove yourself to be accepted. And the moment you fail could be the moment you lose it all.
Thus, avoiding the glass cliff altogether is better. Here’s how you can do so.
- Research the company’s financial health. You can do this by analyzing income and cash flow statements. Make sure you understand what is happening behind the scenes in your company.
- Understand and question not only the expectation of the role but how success is defined in that role. Inquire about the results your supervisors want to see and whether they have a timeline for certain results.
- Tap into your network. See what others know about the role you are being offered. Inquire about the person in the role before it was offered to you. Find out if others were offered the job and why they turned the role down.
- Examine why you would want to accept the role. Take some time to consider why this role would be beneficial to you. How does it align with your values and long-term goals? Is it for the money and the title, or can you do impactful work in this position?
- Negotiate. The two important things to negotiate are your salary and your job roles. If you are set on taking the position, don’t hesitate to negotiate for a higher salary because your role may be high risks. Consider negotiating some safeguard time if things don’t work out as planned.
- Connect with other women professionals. Solidarity is so important in and out of the workplace. Having the support of other women can be a professional advantage as well as mental relief. Therefore be active in connection with other women in and out of your field. Be open to sharing advice and making genuine connections.
Women professionals, particularly black women and other women of color, face many challenges in the workplace. Between microaggressions, stereotypes, racism, and the wage gap, the glass cliff seems like another dragon to battle. However, when you’re shielded with knowledge and support, you can ensure you rise to the top with fewer risks and more success.