Are Women Standing at the Edge of a Glass Cliff?

When I was writing my last article about the impact of the current pandemic-related economic crisis on women’s careers, my thoughts kept wandering to the glass cliff phenomenon. 

The concept of the “glass cliff” is not a new one. A large amount of research and data exists to support it’s existence, and I read much of it in writing my book, Pound On!!

What is a Glass Cliff?

In most “glass cliff” scenarios, women are given a chance at higher-level jobs in which they have little or no chance of succeeding for reasons outside of our control. Glass cliffs are extremely difficult to recognize, which is what makes them so precarious. 

Often, they are the result of hidden problems that only become clear once you are in a senior enough position to be privy to them. Think customer conflicts, poor team interactions, lack of support from peers and/or superiors, etc.

Because of these issues, instead of the opportunity being a stepping stone to greater career growth, it brings you to the edge of a cliff. You either retreat, or you fall off, but neither option gets you closer to the glass ceiling. 

After these abject failures, the leaders (largely men) in the power structure can then justify not giving senior-level jobs to women because we are seen to be failures, providing them with further justification for keeping women out of the C-suite and below the glass ceiling. 

Can You Avoid a Glass Cliff?

As with any promotion or new opportunity, you should do your homework. Before you accept, learn as much as you can about the position and the challenges you may encounter.

Additionally, I always advise women to ask for what they need. If you need more information to make a decision, ask. If you need coaching or additional support to build a specific skill set relevant to your new position, ask for it. 

Stay informed. Know your industry and keep up to date with trends. Watch webinars, read articles, and communicate with your peers, inside and outside your organization.

In many cases, a glass cliff might not be entirely avoidable, but being informed and prepared is always the best way to set yourself up for success. 

The Pandemic and Glass Cliffs

It’s crucial to be aware of this phenomenon, but in the same breath, I think it’s important to recognize that the struggles that women are currently facing are not specifically a glass cliff. Women are not being “set up to fail” they are just being forced to make hard decisions.

In some cases, women risk foregoing career opportunities or dropping out of the workforce entirely. These are decisions that will follow us going forward. They will place us further behind our male counterparts who are able to take on new challenges and opportunities because there is little to no competition from women, who are carrying a larger burden over the course of the pandemic. This could have lasting impacts not just on womens’ opportunities for career advancement, but on the economy as a whole.

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