Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Is There a "Glass Cliff or a Solid Ledge for Female Appointees to the Board of Directors?

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Is There a "Glass Cliff or a Solid Ledge for Female Appointees to the Board of Directors?

Article excerpt


Researchers have been examining barriers and challenges for women in leadership positions from a variety of perspectives since 1979 when the phrase "the glass ceiling" was first used. More recently, some researchers have found evidence of another phenomenon coined the "glass cliff" (Ryan & Haslam, 2005). The glass cliff suggests that females are more likely than males to hold or be appointed to senior positions in organizations that are in crisis. These positions are considered to be "precarious," and, therefore, are associated with a greater risk of failure.

Although Ryan and Haslam (2005, 2007) make a persuasive case to support their view of a glass cliff, the empirical support for such a conclusion is not yet rich or compelling; there is simply an insufficient body of evidence available. In fact, some researchers testing for the phenomenon have produced counter results (Adams, Gupta, and Leeth, 2009). In addition, the concept that women are breaking through cracks in the glass ceiling only to be placed on "glass cliffs" with significant barriers to success has drawn attention from the popular press. These practitioner-oriented stories have given the concept significant exposure, but the support for such a conclusion appears to be lacking. While it seems apparent that women are seriously under-represented in executive positions around the globe (1) this, in itself, does not mean there is a glass cliff. While the suggestion of a glass cliff has gained some following in the popular press, empirical testing and support for the concept lags.

There are two purpose of this study. First, this research seeks evidence of the glass cliff using data from Canada. Much of the research completed to date uses US or UK data, so results from another country will help in determining if the phenomenon exists. This will be accomplished by evaluating the impact of the appointment of women to Canadian boards using security return performance for 25-months around the board appointment. For publicly-traded companies, security returns capture the market's view of company performance. Second, this study aims to extend the analysis by using excess as well as raw return data for 25 months around the date of the board appointment. Some studies only use raw security returns; excess returns are more informative because they remove the basic market movement from the analysis and provide a more sensitive test for market reaction to a company-specific event. The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. Section 2 provides a review of the relevant literature, while Section 3 describes the methodology. Section 4 provides the results, and the final section discusses the limitations of the study, considers future research directions, and concludes the paper.


There has been a great deal of discussion about and investigation into the barriers facing women as they try to climb the corporate ladder and break the "glass ceiling" (Oakley, 2000; Alimo-Metcalfe, 1995; Ragins et al., 1998; Tannen, 1994; and, Kanter, 1977). The term "glass ceiling" was first coined in 1979 by Katherine Lawrence and Marianne Schreiber of Hewlett-Packard. They described a situation where female managers attained a management level that they were not able to rise above, even though there seemed to be a clear path for promotion. This reality may be associated with women's perceived status as "tokens" (Kanter, 1977) in senior management positions, and not part of the "club."

Limiting the advancement of a qualified person within an organization creates a glass ceiling that may be due to some form of discrimination. For an organization with a glass ceiling, a visible group (women) are advanced through the ranks to a certain management level, after which there is an effective limit on their prospects (Albrecht et al., 2003). This concept has become a well accepted explanation for the paucity of women in the upper echelons of organizations. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.