Reactions to the glass cliff

Michelle K. Ryan (School of Psychology, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK)
S. Alexander Haslam (School of Psychology, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK)
Tom Postmes (School of Psychology, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Publication date: 10 April 2007



This paper aims to investigate the phenomenon of the glass cliff, whereby women are more likely than men to be placed in precarious leadership positions. Men's and women's reactions to this subtle form of gender discrimination are examined, the identity processes involved, and the implications for organisations who must manage this change in the gender make‐up of their workforce.


The paper is qualitative analysis of participants’ spontaneous explanations for the glass cliff, after having read about the phenomenon on an online news web site.


The research demonstrates clear differences in men's and women's reactions to the glass cliff. While women were more likely to acknowledge the existence of the glass cliff and recognise its danger, unfairness, and prevalence for women, men were more likely to question the validity of research into the glass cliff, downplaying the dangers. These patterns were mirrored in the explanations that individuals generated. While women were most likely to explain the glass cliff in terms of pernicious processes such as a lack of alternative opportunities, sexism, or men's ingroup favouritism, men were most likely to favour largely benign interpretations, such as women's suitability for difficult leadership tasks, the need for strategic decision‐making, or company factors unrelated to gender.


This research examines people's reactions to a new form of subtle sexism in the workplace which allows one to develop a more thorough theoretical understanding of the phenomenon and of the likely impact of practical interventions designed to help eliminate discriminatory appointment practices.



Ryan, M., Alexander Haslam, S. and Postmes, T. (2007), "Reactions to the glass cliff", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 182-197.

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Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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