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LEADERSHIP / MAR. 11, 2015
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You Should’ve Seen it Coming: Examples of the Glass Ceiling Effect

The Glass Ceiling and Glass Cliff effects are two terms used to describe certain gender and minority-centric discriminatory phenomena. The Glass Ceiling refers to an institutionalized but unseen cap that women and people from minority groups hit when moving up through the ranks of the corporate world, usually around middle management. The Glass Cliff refers to the installment of these individuals to positions of power during irreversible crises with inevitably catastrophic results. The phenomenon is difficult to pinpoint, but here are few of the most explicit of cases.

Anonymous Ad Company

Rena (a pseudonym used in the original article) has been working for an advertisement company whose leadership positions are primarily populated by men. Within the company Rena works in the Finance/IT department that is also male led. The story isn’t about Rena though, when the 11 member leadership team realized how bad it looked at a presentation that it was composed exclusively of men; they promoted a woman that same night. She showed up for the presentation the next day. The corporate version of diversity.

Not Isolated

In a recent Gallup Poll, 15% of American women asked said they had been passed up for a promotion at least once during their career due to gender. Respectively only 8% of men had felt the same effect and only 4% said that their gender played a role in them being denied a raise. If you believe that the phenomena is based purely on perception, Bloomberg’s report on the salaries of S&P 500 index companies’ CEOs shows that only 8% of these leaders are female. Furthermore, these women are paid on average 18% less than their male counterparts.

The Glass Cliff

As I mentioned in the introduction, the Glass Cliff effect is when a woman or a person from a minority background is promoted to lead a failing company. At the moment, General Motor’s CEO Mary Barra is seemingly on precipice of a transparent drop. When Barra became CEO, it was still recovering from bankruptcy, and 1.6 million cars were recalled due to an ignition fault. This malfunction was even linked to 13 deaths. All of these things happened in the first two weeks of Mary Barra’s promotion to CEO. The Glass Cliff is so prevalent that it has actually created a perception that when a woman takes leadership the company might be in crisis.

Another Example

Ina Drew was JP Morgan’s Chief Investment Officer when the banking Leviathan lost $2 billion dollars due to risky trades. Drew was one of the highest paid officials at JP and one of the most powerful (and few) women on Wall Street. After this situation, Drew was forced to resign. Although Drew was in charge of the department responsible for the risky investments, executive management was warned time and time again about the volatile nature of the investments. And yet she was one of the few executives involved and the first to resign.

It is very unfortunate that these phenomena exist behind the closed doors of lofty offices, when on the ground-floor people are struggling, fighting and winning against inequality. Progress has been made, but unfortunately not enough to say that we’ve made headway. If the progress overtakes the relapses, then we can consider it a win for equality.

 

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