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The Glass Cliff in Project Management

Women working in project management have come a long way in shattering glass ceilings and revolutionizing the workforce. But there is always more work to be done.

Once high-performing women in project management are introduced to the glass ceiling, they are likely to meet the glass cliff. They break through the glass ceiling and get the job [yey!], only to end up hanging from their fingertips off the edge of a cliff [boo].

What Is the Glass Cliff?

So what is the glass cliff? It’s the phenomenon where high-achieving women are promoted during times of company turmoil or strife, when risk of failure is highest.

You know that difficult project no one else wants to take on? That’s a cliff project. There’s a reason no one else is putting their hands up for it.

Women get promoted during those tricky times to step up and take the leadership roles for varying different things, including projects. It’s when stakes are high and the risks are great. So great that sometimes we fall off.

In addition to added risk, women leaders are:

  • given less time to take things in a new direction than a male leader
  • more likely to be challenged by male investors
  • 45% more likely to be let go from their position.

The glass cliff was uncovered in 2004 by two psychologists Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam. Through their research, they found of the top 100 companies on the London Stock exchange, the companies that were underperforming were more likely to allow women on their boards in response to low numbers and need for change.

There are multiple high-profile cases of the glass cliff in action, such as Carly Fiorina, formerly of Hewlett-Packard, Jill Abramson, formerly of the New York Times and Carol Bartz, formerly of Yahoo.

Still today, only 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women and this number is actually lower now than it has been in earlier years. But there are steps women can take to avoid falling off the glass cliff.

Learn more about the glass cliff and seven ways you can avoid it below.


What is the Glass Cliff?Source: Fundera.com

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

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