From Glass Ceilings to Glass Cliffs - Dr Keith D Dorsey

Talking Trends
3 min readMar 29, 2023
Dr Keith D Dorsey — From Glass Ceilings to Glass Cliffs

From Glass Ceilings to Glass Cliffs: A Guide to Jumping, Not Falling

Some statistics suggest that the glass ceiling and barriers to diverse professionals’ advancement (sometimes called bamboo or concrete ceilings) may be weakening. A 2021 report indicates that the proportion of women in senior management roles globally grew to an unprecedented 31%, while 90% of companies worldwide have at least one woman in a senior management role.

But the proportion of diverse employees in the workforce continues to dwindle as we look up the corporate ladder. Researchers from McKinsey and Lean In found that in 2022, only 26% of C-suite roles were held by women and only a tiny fraction — 5% — by women of color.

Why are companies failing to retain and advance occupational minorities — in this case, women and people of color? While there are many causes, one unique hurdle facing aspiring diverse candidates is the glass cliff phenomenon, in which women and other minorities are preferentially selected for leadership positions in times of crisis, placing them at increased risk for failure.1 This phenomenon occurs across industries and geographies and for women and ethnic minorities alike.2 Poorly performing Fortune 500 companies were found to be more likely to appoint a female CEO than those performing well.3 Another study found that boards were more likely to recruit female directors following decreased stock performance.

In times of crisis, leaders — no matter who they are — tend to be seen as ineffective and part of the problem. When the leader is an occupational minority, any failure or lack of improvement tends to be blamed on their personal failings rather than on the situation. In a phenomenon called the savior effect, the minority leader is then replaced by a more demographically typical leader who “saves the day.” This both perpetuates leadership stereotypes in the organization and constricts diverse candidates’ future opportunities.

Read more at MITSloan Management Revue.

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