Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

AdChoices
Justin Weinhardt, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.
Justin Weinhardt, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.

LEADERSHIP LAB

A letter to the woman promoted off the glass cliff Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers.

This week’s series of Leadership Labs is being published in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

Pop the champagne! It is time to celebrate. You have finally broken through the glass ceiling. You, a female in North America, have reached a position that few women hold – you were promoted to CEO. Why not pop two bottles? You really do deserve them. However, not for the reason you think. The second bottle is not to celebrate; the second bottle is a coping mechanism to deal with what lies ahead.

What happens after you make it to the top?

In the study Leading at the top: Understanding women’s challenges above the glass ceiling, Christy Glass and Alison Cook analyze the conditions under which women are promoted to top leadership positions and find that women are subject to greater disadvantages than men post-promotion.

What you can expect?

  • A lack of support and respect for your authority to accomplish the company’s strategic goals
  • Shorter tenure compared to your male peers
  • Greater performance pressure and significantly more scrutiny than your male counterparts

It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun but you have the position, so what happens next?

Women in high-risk situations

“This job was risky… I had to rebuild an organization from scratch.”

– Female executive interviewed by Glass and Cook What type of company are you inheriting when you step up as a CEO? Research shows that women and minorities are more likely to be promoted to CEO of companies that are struggling, in crisis or at risk of failure. Glass and Cook found that 44 per cent of women were appointed to CEO when firms were doing well compared to 70 per cent of men appointed when firms were doing well. Women are often promoted in higher risk situations. Inevitably, these female CEOs have a harder time staying in their positions due to the higher hurdles the face once promoted.

“You don’t belong here”

“[Their attitude is] you don’t belong here–this job should be going to a male.”

– Female executive interviewed by Glass and Cook Once you get your high-risk promotion, you will experience two significant challenges: a lack of support and available resources, and resistance to your authority from subordinates. The study found that one of the biggest reasons behind these challenges was that women promoted to CEO were not simultaneously promoted to Chairman of the Board, known as dual appointment. Only 13 per cent of women started as CEO and Chair of the Board, whereas their male counterparts held this dual appointment 50 per cent of the time. Without holding the position of Chair of the Board, the CEO has less influence and power over the board of directors, which restricts their decision-making abilities and makes it difficult to execute strategies.

Lacking a dual appointment is only one of the many results found in the study that prevents women in leadership positions to succeed. Another surprising result found that female CEOs and executives are often excluded from professional and social networks, restricting them from professional advancement. Women are excluded from some social events and although there is not a lot of work being done – there is still plenty of business taking place. After-hour meetings build trust among employees, client relationships and strengthen the corporate culture.

Women are also excluded during meetings and discussions, where their perspective is necessary. A CEO described a strategy meeting where she was blatantly ignored and dismissed during considerations of the firm’s maternity leave policy. Not only does exclusion from these important events and discussions inhibit female leaders’ performance, it inevitably makes them feel like outsiders.

Sticking it to the man

“There are many incompetent men. Women, to attain these top positions have really fine-tuned their skill sets.”

– Female executive interviewed by Glass and Cook

It is tempting to turn down the job. However, you are exactly what the sinking ship needs. Women are more likely to outperform male leaders on interpersonal skills and cooperation, and are more likely to exhibit characteristics associated with transformational leadership such as inspirational motivation, going beyond one’s own needs and a focus on high-quality relationships.

Most surprisingly, the study by Glass and Cook revealed, “in response to their minority status and to the negative visibility that being a woman entails, women develop strategies to become visible for the ‘right’ reasons.” As one respondent put it, “You knew the risk was high but you knew the rewards were high too. You could go up in flames or you could get rewarded and do a great job.” Although a promotion or assignment was of high risk, women’s motivation to demonstrate themselves as leaders and be respected by their colleagues proved to outweigh that risk.

Clearly, women are still at a great disadvantage. Whether it is a smaller task or a big promotion off the glass cliff, these obstacles continue to exist for all women. Through these perils we should keep in mind what Rupi Kaur, Canadian feminist poet asks:

What’s the greatest lesson a woman should learn?

that since day one, she’s already had everything

she needs within herself. It’s the world that convinced her she did not

So, pick up the glass of champagne, take a drink and get to work. The road might be a little rockier and a little more painful than for your male CEO colleagues, but you can do it.

Justin Weinhardt, PhD, (@OrgPsychologist) is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business (@haskayneschool). He is an expert in organizational behaviour, and has a particular interest in understanding how motivation and decision making change over time. Ana Maria Piedrahita is a business analytics and strategy consultant in Calgary.

Report Typo/Error

Follow us on Twitter: @Globe_Careers

Also on The Globe and Mail

Are women wary of climbing the corporate ladder? (The Globe and Mail)

Next story

loading

Trending

loading

Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular