Caroline Gennez (former chairperson of SP.A) and Marianne Thyssen (former chairperson of CD&V) both balanced and went over the Glass Cliff. Gwendolyn Rutten (candidate to become the next chairperson of  Open-Vld) might become the next victim of that Cliff.

The Glass Cliff is not the same as the Glass Ceiling. The latter is the underrepresentation of women at the highest echelons of organizations which still exists 40 years after we discovered the first obstacles that cause it. And yes, the ceiling is somewhat less thick by now, but still exists due to being a complex phenomenon situated in the individual psyche of human beings, cultures of organizations, and cultures of nations, and the interaction of these 3 levels. For that reason and a few others we should better call it a Leadership Labyrinth than a glass ceiling by now (see Eagly & Carli in Harvard Business Review in 2007).

The Glass Cliff refers to the fact that when women break through the glass ceiling they often do this in times of organizational crisis. This phenomenon has been described for the first time by Michelle Ryan and Alexander Haslam in 2005. Hereafter, it has been demonstrated further in many top academic articles. Stated differently, women are over-represented in precarious leadership positions. And by consequence, the chances that they fail at the top are higher. This could feed the cynics: “you see, women and the top is not a good marriage”. I hope Gwendolyn Rutten will not be food for those cynics. The scientific odds are, however, against here if she would be elected as the next chairperson of Open-Vld.

Any comments?

Eagly, A.H. & Carli, L.L. (2007). Women and the labyrinth of Leadership. Harvard Business Review, September, 62-71.

Ryan, M. & Haslam, A. (2005). The Glass Cliff: Evidence that women are over-represented in precarious leadership positions. British Journal of Management, 16 (2), 81-90.

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