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The “glass cliff”: When it takes a crisis for corporations to turn to women leaders

Empty board table looking out to city

The importance of gender diversity in boardrooms and upper management is clear. But despite the growing body of research that demonstrates its economic and social benefits, increasing gender diversity has been a slow process and the gender imbalance is far from gone.  

Interestingly, women are more likely to be appointed to leadership roles during a time of crisis for businesses. Researchers have termed this the “glass cliff” phenomenon. Though evidence of the phenomenon has been documented for almost 20 years, little work has been done to shed light on it.  

Now, Telfer professor Kaouthar Lajili  has received a SMRG Research Development Grant from the School for a project titled “Risk and the advancement of women in top management leadership positions.”  

Research goal and impact 

Lajili will seek to understand “glass cliff” conditions in boardrooms and upper management, the situations in which women are assigned leadership positions and the impact of being hired in a crisis on women’s careers. 

Lajili will develop a dataset documenting the entry and exit of female leaders. She will also build a typology of different career paths of female leaders based on both their personal characteristics and the firm environment. 

This research should add critical nuance to our understanding of how gender affects company performance and productivity. It aims to show how organizations can better support women leaders in their career paths and goals. By studying their pathways to leadership roles, Lajili hopes to remove some of the barriers that women face in upper-level positions.  

About the Author

Phoenix a rejoint l'équipe de Direction de la recherche de Telfer en 2021 grâce au régime travail-études. Elle est diplômée du baccalauréat spécialisé en enseignement des langues secondes et est présentement inscrite au programme de formation à l’enseignement (B.Éd.). Ses responsabilités comprennent la gestion et l'analyse de données, la rédaction d'articles, en plus d'autres tâches administratives.<br/><br/>Phoenix joined the Telfer Research Office in 2021 through the work-study program. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Second Language Teaching and is working toward a Bachelor of Education. Her responsibilities include data management and analytics, story writing, and other administrative tasks.

Profile Photo of Phoenix Hudson