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Forget about the Glass Ceiling

Mar 9, 2022
Forget about the Glass Ceiling

We’ve all heard the phrase “glass ceiling” which is notably used when talking about progression or lack thereof, but what happens when you find yourself at the edge of a glass cliff, only a few steps away from a complete crisis?

This was highlighted in an article by the BBC, which discussed what the glass cliff can look like, particularly for women and people of colour.

“In difficult times, people are more likely to appoint women and people of colour to be leaders. But this puts crisis leaders in a very precarious position”

And it got us thinking, why don’t people talk about the glass cliff more often?

The research doesn’t lie. It’s shown that women and people of colour are put into these situations far more often than their white or male colleagues, and addressing this issue in the workplace can be a difficult topic to broach.

The bottom line is that women and people of colour are typically called upon to lead in difficult times due to their competency, and the fact that stereotypically female/feminine traits tend to lead to better performance and crisis reduction.

The glass cliff is the beginning of burnout

Burnout can come in many shapes and forms, but the glass cliff can be the “tipping point” where someone can fall into experiencing burnout. Not only can burnout cause a ripple effect across the whole business - particularly if the individual experiencing it is senior, but it can have a knock-on effect on your physical and mental wellbeing for the long term. 

Trying to come back from burnout is a lot harder than preventing it, and the glass cliff is the place where you either fall into burnout, or put steps in place to help you regain control (and peace of mind).

What can the glass cliff look like?

Although it can look different in many organisations, here are some ways of spotting the glass cliff:

  • Is it challenging, or is it impossible? The phenomenon of the glass cliff is usually when a woman or person of colour takes on a role that is directly dealing with a crisis. Challenge is necessary for every role, but if the role sounds impossible, or is asking too much of you, then you may be entering dangerous territory.

  • Lack of support: One of the biggest elements of the glass cliff is that there are rarely any bystanders to support and guide. Whether this is understanding your support team/leadership ecosystem before taking a role, or noticing that you simply never had the correct support to start with, can be an indicator that you are falling into this position. 

  • What is the culture like? Company culture and getting the opportunity to meet other people you may be working with can be a great indicator to find out whether you will be supported - and most importantly work with like-minded people. An inclusive environment doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of a glass cliff, but it certainly can reduce it.

How can you spot it before it’s too late?
  • Do your research. Entering a business at a time of crisis can be difficult to spot initially, but research the company and ensure that you ask a ton of questions around performance, goals, and team dynamics.

  • How long has the role been open? If the role has taken months or years to fill, it’s probably because they’re asking for something that is unreasonable, or it isn’t attractive to others in the market.

  • Talk to peers. Your peers who are at the same professional level as you will be able to give you excellent advice on a business as well as its role.

And finally, try not to be (too) cynical. Although the glass cliff is very much so present in leadership roles for women and people of colour, there are also excellent opportunities out there that can be fulfilling and the right level of challenge.

Join the discussion and comment below!

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