Glass Cliff

Reviewed by Sweta | Updated on Jul 30, 2021



Glass cliff refers to a situation which witnesses the promotion of women in positions of power during a major crisis, economic, political, or otherwise. The event occurs in a situation where failure is more likely.

The term ‘Glass Cliff’ was given by Professors Alexander Haslam and Michelle K. Ryan belonging to the University of Exeter, United Kingdom. The source for ‘Glass Cliff’ is the term ‘Glass Ceiling’ which makes a reference to unseen limits or unspoken limits for women to achieve in an organisation. The term is generally used while describing women who shattered the glass ceiling to reach high positions.

Understanding Glass Cliff

Glass cliff, though, coined for promoting women, it also applies to the promoting or appointing minorities or people from the marginalised sections of society. In a time of crisis, the top position is more likely to fail. It can be best described as placing a ‘put’ bet in a position which is more likely to fail.

The ‘Glass Cliff’ typically is the position at the top, which is dangerous and carries high risk with responsibility. The risk of failing or falling off the cliff is high. Women are allotted the higher position in companies which are financially struggling and carrying a risk of closing down early. In such cases, the woman may be given the opportunity because the tenure is likely to be short.

The organisation remains unaffected by the phenomenon. In case the organisation shuts down, the woman will get the blame for the failure. In such a case, the position is open for appointing a man in the place of the woman. In case the organisation betters its position, the people appointing the woman get credit for appointing the right person.


A woman offered a ‘Glass Cliff’ position often struggles to steer the organisation. She struggles for lack of mentors, lack of access to experience, and so on. Thus, the position carries a high risk of failure.

Other studies conducted by Professors Alexander Haslam and Michelle K. Ryan belonging to the University of Exeter, United Kingdom also indicated that female law students were generally assigned the riskiest cases carrying high probability of failure. From the woman’s perspective, it is difficult to say no to a glass cliff position since rarely leadership roles are offered to women.

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