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A trick-cyclist in Exeter says that women rising to high leaderships positions in business and politics - so having broken through the "glass ceiling" - are then faced by the additional menace of a "glass cliff".

Dr Michelle Ryan and colleagues at Exeter Uni lay out their research in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly*. Essentially the theory of the "glass cliff" has it that women tend only to be appointed to senior leadership positions when the organisation to be led faces crisis and everything is likely to go wrong, leading to a dearth of men willing to take the helm.

According to the profs:

In the EU women make up just over ten percent of the top executive positions in the top fifty publicly quoted companies, and in the U.S. female leaders occupy less than sixteen percent of these positions in the Fortune 500. As women continue to be under-represented in politics and business, this stereotype is often reinforced and self-perpetuating.

The example chosen by Dr Ryan and her collaborators in their study is not business, however, but that of election campaigns for Conservative Party MPs. It seems that in the 2005 election, Tory selectors in safe seats mostly put forward men, whereas in constituencies where there wasn't much chance of a win they generally chose women - thus facing them with the "glass cliff" of an all but impossible election campaign.

"Gender discrimination in politics can be subtle and difficult to identify," says Ryan. "Women continue to be under-represented in political office and often face a more difficult political task than men."

Her paper, Politics and the Glass Cliff, can be read here (subscription only). ®

Bootnote

*In case you were wondering:

Psychology of Women Quarterly (PWQ) is a feminist journal that publishes primarily qualitative and quantitative research with substantive and theoretical merit... Topics include... lifespan role development and change... physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; violence and harassment; prejudice and discrimination... sexuality, sexual orientation, and heterosexism... Literary analyses do not fall within the purview of the journal.

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