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The who, when, and why of the glass cliff phenomenon: A meta-analysis of appointments to precarious leadership positions

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Women and members of other underrepresented groups who break through the glass ceiling often find themselves in precarious leadership positions, a phenomenon that has been termed the glass cliff. The glass cliff has been investigated in a range of domains using various methodologies, but evidence is mixed. In 3 meta-analyses, we examined (a) archival field studies testing whether members of underrepresented groups, compared with members of majority groups, are more likely to be appointed to leadership positions in times of crisis; (b) experimental studies testing whether members of underrepresented groups, compared with members of majority groups, are evaluated as more suitable for, as well as (c) more likely to be selected for, leadership positions in times of crisis. All 3 analyses provided some evidence in line with the glass cliff for women. Specifically, the meta-analysis of archival studies revealed a small glass cliff effect that was dependent on organizational domain. The leadership suitability meta-analysis also showed a small glass cliff effect in between-participants studies, but not in within-participants studies. The analysis of leadership selection revealed that women are more likely to be selected over men in times of crisis, and that this effect is larger in countries with higher gender inequality. The glass cliff also extended to members of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. We explore several moderating factors and report analyses shedding light on the underlying causes of the glass cliff. We discuss implications of our findings as well as open questions. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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... Leadership expectations tend to be different in times of crisis and uncertainty compared to times of stability or success (e.g., Haslam et al., 2001 ;Ryan et al., 2011 ). Research from the last two decades on leadership have shown that the emergence of female and racial-ethnic minority leaders is particularly likely in crisis situations ( Morgenroth et al., 2020 ). The glass cliff phenomenon illustrates the tendency for women and members of other minority groups to be more likely appointed in risky or precarious leadership situations than in no-crisis situations compared to men and majority candidates ( Ryan et al., 2016 ). ...
... However, a recent meta-analysis on the glass cliff ( Morgenroth et al., 2020 ) did not find robust support that the glass cliff is caused by the perception that stereotypically feminine qualities are seen as useful in a crisis context. Moreover, stereotypes vary between different underrepresented groups ( Devine and Elliot, 1995 ;Priest et al., 2018 ), and thus may not account in the same ways for the selection of minorities across groups in crisis contexts. ...
... Moreover, stereotypes vary between different underrepresented groups ( Devine and Elliot, 1995 ;Priest et al., 2018 ), and thus may not account in the same ways for the selection of minorities across groups in crisis contexts. While contextual factors have been highlighted as important for the emergence of a glass cliff (such as domain, gender inequality index of the country, etc.), it is noted that most glass cliff studies have not compared between several types of crises requiring different leadership qualities ( Morgenroth et al., 2020 ). Thus, the think crisis-think female link suggested by Ryan et al. (2011) may be restricted to crisis types in which stereotypically feminine attributes are seen as needed. ...
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Research on underrepresented groups in leadership has shown that women and ethnic minorities are preferred as leaders during a crisis. In the present study, we investigated factors that shape voter preferences for minority political leaders in the COVID-19 crisis. We examined participant perceptions of the severity of the COVID-19 crisis in health, social, and economic domains and self-reported political leaning, and their impact on preference for a female (vs male) or minority political leader. We collected survey data in autumn 2020 using online platforms in France, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and a snowball sample in Germany (total N = 1,259). Results showed that female leaders were generally more preferred by politically left- than right-leaning participants independent of severity perceptions of the social or economic crisis. In addition, we found that preference for female leaders amongst right-leaning participants increased when their current regional leader's actions were judged insufficient to manage the health crisis, an effect primarily driven by participants in Germany and the United Kingdom. Left-leaning political orientation also predicted the preference for minority leaders across countries. Moreover, a more severe perception of the social aspects of the crisis increased minority preference, as expected, but mostly in Germany and the United States. We discuss cross-country variation of our results. Overall, our findings affirm and expand prior research showing the importance of political leaning and changing leadership demands in a crisis and their impact on the preference for minority leaders.
... However, when the company is in crisis, people tend attribute relatively more feminine than masculine characteristics to an "ideal" manager (Ryan, Haslam, Hersby & Bongiorno, 2011, Study 1 and 2). Thus, in times of crisis, it seems that the classic "think manager -think male" mental representation is replaced by another association: "think crisis-think female" Gartzia, Ryan, Balluerka & Aritzeta, 2012; for a meta-analysis, see Morgenroth, Kirby, Ryan and Sudkämper, 2020). ...
... Literature shows that people's gender does not directly predict the selection or the evaluation of a candidate for a leadership position (Rudman & Phelan, 2008;Ashby, Ryan & Haslam, 2007;Morgenroth et al., 2020). It is not gender per se that accounts for people's evaluation or the selection of a candidate, but it is their representation of the manager prototype. ...
... 1. It is important to note that although the studies and meta-analysis cited above reveal a gender difference in the glass ceiling phenomenon, a more recent meta-analysis focusing more on the glass cliff phenomenon fails to show such a difference (Morgenroth et al., 2020). This could be explained by the fact that women may see these glass cliff situations as an opportunity for change and as a way to move into positions they have not previously been able to access. ...
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The purpose of the present paper is to introduce the Gender Projection Model. After a short review of the different accounts and theories on gender discrimination in the workplace, and of the three main phenomena: the glass ceiling, the backlash effect and the glass cliff, we present the gender projection model (GPM), a cognitive and motivational model for predicting the selection and self-selection of women in management positions. Our model posits gender projection, the assignment of typical gender characteristics to the position of manager, as a central mechanism accounting for the development of the manager prototype, both the (discriminatory) behavior and attitudes of personnel decision-makers (e.g., selection and/or evaluation of a male/female candidate) and the motivation and performance of (prospective) male and female managers. We believe this model will allow a better understanding of the construction of the manager prototype to explain the under-representation of women at the highest levels of the organizational hierarchy.
... For example, Rosette et al. (Rosette et al., 2008) empirically demonstrated an implicit cognitive connection between race and leader capabilities, such that participants assume that leaders are White and that White leaders are more effective than Black leaders (see also Gündermir et al., 2014). In addition to assumptions made about leadership potential and success, meta-analytic evidence shows that the glass cliff effect-the placement of certain people into risky or precarious leadership positions (see (Ryan & Haslam, 2005))-is stronger for Black individuals, compared to White individuals, signaling that either organizations are motivated to pursue demographic changes during crises or that anti-Black racism is a driver of the glass cliff effect (Morgenroth et al., 2020). Further, once in leadership roles, anti-Black racism manifests as internal attributions made for failures and external attributions for successes of Black leaders, while the opposite is observed for White leaders (Carton & Rosette, 2011). ...
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In the wake of recent, highly publicized examples of anti-Black racism, scholars and practitioners are seeking ways to use their skills, resources, and platforms to better understand and address this phenomenon. Naming, examining, and countering anti-Black racism are critical steps toward fostering antiracist science and practice. To support those efforts, this paper details key insights from past research on anti-Black racism in organizations, draws from critical race perspectives to highlight specific topics that warrant consideration in future research, and offers considerations for how scholars should approach anti-Black racism research. Future research ideas include: specific manifestations of anti-Black racism within organizations, the double-bind of authenticity for Black employees, intersectionality among Black employees, and means of redressing anti-Black racism in organizations. Suggested research considerations include: understanding the history of anti-Black racism within research and integrating anti-Black racism research insights across organizational science. Research insights, ideas, and considerations are outlined to provide context for past and current experiences and guidance for future scholarship concerning anti-Black racism in organizations.
... Consequently, both groups can face similar challenges. For example, both female and Asian American leaders have been found to be subject to the glass cliff phenomenon, preferred as leaders during times of crisis to manage problems but not turn things around (Gündemir et al., 2019;Morgenroth et al., 2020). Additionally, prior research demonstrates that observers tend to assume that Asian Americans will be communal and self-sacrificing to promote cooperation and harmony within the groups that they belong to, including at work, due to presumed collectivistic values characteristic of East Asian cultures (Gündemir et al., 2019). ...
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Introduction Glass cliff evidence shows that women and ethnic, racial, and immigration (ERI) groups are more likely to face precarious leadership positions than majority groups. In politics, this is illustrated by minority candidates running for harder-to-win seats than majority candidates. Objective The present research extends these correlational findings on ERI populations to an experimental setting and investigates the underlying reasons. Method Two scenario-based experimental studies were conducted with voting populations in France and Switzerland, who took the role of party decision-maker. In Study 1 (n = 64), we manipulated candidate origin and measured the choice of political ward (hard vs. easy-to-win), while in Study 2 (n = 151), we manipulated ward winnability and measured candidate choice (ERI minority vs. majority). Results Overall, findings suggest that ERI minority (compared to majority) political candidates were more likely to be matched with hard-to-win than easy-to-win political wards. Of interest, this finding only occurred for participants with a political left-wing orientation. Moreover, both studies investigated the reasons underlying such tendency and, in particular, focused on participants’ motivation to implement change. Conclusion The discussion confronts hostile and benign motives for glass cliff decisions and highlights the potentially distinct consequences for minority candidates.
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