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Doing the dirty work - do women mop up workplace mess?

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 13 December 2018 17:46 GMT

People walk through the financial district of Canary Wharf, London, Britain 28 September 2017. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

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Data shows no evidence for the so-called 'glass cliff' – a theory suggesting women are often only brought into senior positions at times of crisis

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Dec 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It may come as cold comfort to embattled female leaders but researchers on Thursday said the claim women are often appointed to clean up messes created by men is a "myth."

Data from dozens of leading German and British companies gave no evidence for the so-called 'glass cliff' – a theory suggesting women are often only brought into senior positions at times of crisis when the risk of failure is higher.

However, the glass ceiling was still a problem for many women seeking senior positions, said the researchers in a paper for The Leadership Quarterly.

"We definitely hope that our research contributes to debunking this," lead author Myriam Bechtoldt told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"To a certain extent it's good news because you don't need to be afraid to accept a promotion ... But the negative finding is there is just a tiny percentage of women who are promoted."

Women are still under-represented in senior positions at companies and in public life.

Some have suggested women face multiple forms of subtle discrimination, not limited to the idea of a 'glass ceiling' where they find progress blocked at higher levels.

The idea of the "glass cliff" came about in the early 2000s.

Britain's appointment of Prime Minister Theresa May just after the vote for Brexit and the hiring of Marissa Mayer as the CEO of troubled tech firm Yahoo have both been highlighted as prime examples of the phenomenon.

However, an analysis of nearly 250 leading firms in Britain and Germany which tracked the performance of companies against senior appointments found no evidence that women were more likely to be promoted to top jobs in times of turbulence.

Researchers concluded the glass cliff "seems to be more of a myth than a real phenomenon" in the corporate world - though they added more research was needed to see if it applied to other areas such as politics.

The data did show companies were still failing to promote women, who represented no more than 10 percent of appointments to boards in both countries.

"This report highlights yet again that the same old barriers for women remain," said Samantha Rennie, the executive director of the women's funding group Rosa.

"The real issue is that there are so very few examples of women in senior leadership roles to draw on." (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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