I know I've banged on quite a bit about women on boards, but here's a health warning.
It seems that when women do get to the top many are faced with a glass cliff and left dangling over a dangerous company precipice.
|Women are more likely to be appointed to leadership positions|
when an organisation is in crisis.
By 2015 Lord Davies wants 25% female representation on boards (yes, one in four – an odd way of construing equality I know). And this year’s figures suggest everything’s on target to achieve it. In the FTSE100 women now account for 15.6% of all directorships, up from 12.5% last year. And although there are still 11 all-male boards, at least that’s down from last year’s staggering 21.
But last week, when talking to Ernst and Young about diversity, a lovely lady there alerted me to the notion of the glass cliff.
Yes, we’ve heard of the glass ceiling – that invisible put impenetrable barrier that hinders female advancement in the workplace - and even the glass escalator that gives men a smooth ride to the top, but the glass cliff?
It comes from research by Ryan and Haslam at the University of Exeter who, in a systematic study of the performance of FTSE 100 companies before and after appointing a board member, found that companies who appointed a woman were more likely to have experienced consistently poor performance in the months preceding the appointment.
This is both good and bad news. It demonstrates that companies are willing to do something different in times of crisis. In fact there's more recent evidence that a crisis disrupts traditional stereotypes of what makes a good leader, favouring female attributes over male. But it's a bit like taking over the controls after the car has been wrecked and Ryan and Haslam include a note of caution in their paper, saying:
Positions on glass cliffs can be seen as being exceedingly dangerous for the women who hold them. Companies that have experienced consistently bad performance are bound to attract attention to themselves and to those on their boards of directors … In this way, compared to men, women who assume leadership offices may be differentially exposed to criticism and in greater danger of being apportioned blame for negative outcomes that were set in train well before they assumed their new roles.
Ryan & Haslam (2005),The Glass Cliff: Evidence that Women Are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions, British Journal of Management.