As a woman you bust your ass trying to get that promotion. You try and you try and finally, finally you get the call you have been waiting for: you are hired. All of those cover letters, interview preparations, interviews, rejections, interview outfits, planning and stressing was worth it. You. Got. The. Job.
You walk into your new job, but oops, you fall over the cliff. I guess no one told you that the game was not over yet.
What is the glass cliff and how do I not fall off of it?
What’s the glass cliff, you ask? British comedian Sandi Toksvig explained it best: ‘It’s a case of men going, ‘Wow, it can’t get any worse, quick, let’s put a woman in charge!’
Well, let’s back up first, and discuss the glass ceiling, which is the informal, invisible barrier that keeps women out of upper management.
Interesting new research is showing something even more startling; women who are able to break through said ceiling are now facing a new crisis, because they have a better chance of breaking though when an organization is facing a crisis — thus finding themselves on the glass cliff.
So what is happening?
Well, it seems like we are starting to get the opportunities we are looking for, but we are being expected to do much more, than our predecessors to prove our positions and keep them.
The glass cliff is the theory is that women can rise to leadership, but when they’re brought in to turn things around during dire times, they have to bear the blame if things don’t go well. So while they’ve managed to break through the glass ceiling, they’re then pushed off the glass cliff.
We are being used as test subjects, under the worst case scenarios and if we fail, we prove them right and future women are not considered for said opportunities.
The basis of theory is that if these women come in, to an already shaky foundation and do not turn things drastically around, under the hardest of conditions, that they will be replaced by (typically) a white man.
It seems, from research, that a woman leader is only wanted or considered when a male leader has made a mistake or the organization is in a state of stress or trouble.
In other words: we ask women to save drowning companies and compare them to men who lead steady ones. It’s a downward spiral. When women can’t magically save struggling companies, society reaffirms their belief that women can’t lead and it’s best to have white, male CEOs in charge.
How can women protect themselves, once they do get the promotion they want and deserve?
Be firm with your boundaries.
When you start your new position, reflect on the current state of the organization. Speak with your supervisor and create clear, manageable expectations and long term goals for organizational improvement. Ask for the help, resources and staff you will need to mitigate such a change.
Be clear with the current situation and expectations for the first year and five year plan.
During said initial conversations, do not promise to turn things around in months or even a year, but create a clear, concise five year plan. It takes years for an organization to run itself into despair, so it will take years to get out of said rut as well. Staff mentality, disorganized structure and improper job responsibilities will all have to be assessed and re-evaluated.
Do not live to work.
Set clear expectations for your supervisor and your staff. Make rules, with yourself, and ensure that you are not doing all of the heavy lifting alone. Be wary of times when you are forgoing other life responsibilities (and pleasures) because of work issues and see these as opportunities to reaffirm your work expectations.
Do not be available all of the time.
Do not answer every email the moment it arrives. Do not have 24/7 contact with your team, teach them that they need to be able to function without holding your hand the entire time. Carve out time in your day and week for independent work time and when you leave the office physically, also leave it mentally. Answering emails and texts in the evenings and weekends will only grow your workload and other people’s expectations of you, which you will eventually let down, because no one can be on call all of the time to put out fires.
Teach others how they can treat you and respect yourself as well to treat yourself the same way.
If you committed to an out of work activity, but something at work comes up, be clear with your expectations. Make sure that you do not put yourself (and your life) last, every time a situation arises at work. By being clear that the organization will not burn to the ground with your absence, by asserting your own respect, and your team will learn to function and make smart, strategic choices with and without your presence.
Being a female leader is still a difficult position to have in society, but if we support each other, are clear with what we need and what is expected of us, we can help change the vision of what a successful female leader is.