T-learning # Idiom
Speak Like a Native

a glass cliff

Choose the correct definition a, b or c.

a) women in risky leadership roles

Well done ! That’s the right answer.

The "glass cliff" is the research-backed phenomenon where a woman or person of color is promoted to a senior leadership position during a difficult time for a company, when the risk of failure is high.

The term was coined in 2004 by British professors Michelle K. Ryan and Alexander Haslam of University of Exeter, United Kingdom. In a study, Ryan and Haslam examined the performance of FTSE 100 companies before and after the appointment of new board members, and found that companies that appointed women to their boards were likelier than others to have experienced consistently bad performance in the preceding five months.

This work eventually developed into the identification of a phenomenon known as the glass cliff— analogous to the concept of a glass ceiling, but implying the inability to perceive the dangers of the cliff’s transparent edge rather than the false promise of elevated organizational positions which can be "seen" through a ceiling of glass but which are actually unattainable. Since the term originated, its use has expanded beyond the corporate world to also encompass politics and other domains.

The glass cliff concept has also been used to describe employment discrimination experienced by leaders who are members of minorities or disabled.

French translation

falaise de verre


Examples in context

‘The ‘Glass Cliff’ Challenge For Corporate Governance

Most corporate directors are familiar with the term “glass ceiling”—as they should be. Fewer directors are familiar with the term “glass cliff”— but they should be. For their ability to recognize the distinction between the two, and respond to the related challenges, will be critical to a company’s efforts to assure gender equality within its workforce.

To review, the glass ceiling generally refers to the phenomenon of an invisible barrier through which women can visualize senior leadership positions in the organization, but cannot achieve them no matter their particular qualifications and accomplishments.
The glass cliff, on the other hand, refers to the phenomenon by which women are more likely to be appointed to senior executive positions during times of organizational crisis, making them less likely to succeed.’

Forbes, 28 Feb 2021


‘Governor Kathy Hochul and the all-too-familiar glass cliff

New York’s first-ever female governor has been given a massive challenge. It’s a common story for many women leaders who only get their big break during times of crisis.

New York’s first-ever female governor, Kathy Hochul, was sworn in on Tuesday in the wake of a disgraced outgoing governor. She is tasked with a number of significant public health, education, and economic challenges. It’s a story that parallels what so many professional women face when rising to the top—and it’s playing out in the highest level of state politics.

The term glass cliff—a derivative of the term glass ceiling, the common metaphor for the unspoken limit to how high women and people of color can rise in an organization—was coined to indicate how women are frequently promoted when an organization is in crisis mode. Often a last-ditch effort—”what could be worse ?”—they “put the girl in.”’

Fast Company, 27 August 2021


Everyday usage

Once minorities break the "glass ceiling," they often face the "glass cliff."

EnglishTonic and Claramedia, 22 Oct. 2021

b) corporate failings

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c) hierarchical impediment for women

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