Ever heard of the Glass Cliff? You know, the one that Cinderella comes tumbling down after her if-the-shoe-fits approach to matrimony fails in a blur of play dates and Teflon.
The Glass Cliff is a theory that picks up where the Glass Ceiling left off. It stipulates that women tend to be put in “leadership positions that are associated with an increased risk of criticism and failure,” that they are often allowed to rise to leadership roles during crisis, downturn or interim shifts.
The term came about after Professors Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam of the University of Exeter set out to disprove the notion that women leaders cause financial collapse or failure in FTSE 100 companies. They found that, in fact, women were appointed to leadership positions as companies were already headed for failure while men rose to cushy positions in periods of stability and growth.
This obviously has a few implications:
1) To a lazy observer, it would look like women leaders are underperforming. It’s the equivalent of having to race against Michael Phelps while wearing 50 pound weights. Or, you know, racing against Michael Phelps period.
2) As other, especially younger, women watch their mentors slip n’ slide off the glass cliff, the resulting demotivation hinders social progress and belief in equitable systems.
3) It maintains the status quo — women in precarious leadership positions are seen as less threatening and easier targets of criticism and blame, especially with regard to their femaleness.
I want to zone in on that third point for a second. There seems to be a bit of fine print associated with the ability of women to break glass ceilings and rise to the top, at least in name. The secret ingredient is apparently relatively simple: be as non-threatening as possible. How, you ask?
Well, an article I stumbled across today has the perfect answer. And you can buy it in aisle 3 of your local grocery store. Revel in Revlon and watch your status rise. (Revlon should put me on its marketing team).
I’m just going to paste the last paragraph of the article here because I want you to experience the incredulous joy too:
Should really we all be battling in opposition to stereotypes like these? Of program we need to. But if they at any time go away it certainly will never be in the close to long run. And which is why wise ladies who want to be revered as leaders so typically switch into blondes, Berdahl says. “If ladies are selecting to dye their hair blonde, you will find anything strategic about the option,” she explained to HuffPo. “If the offer is female, disarming and childlike, you can get away with more assertive, impartial and masculine actions.”
So go ahead–make that appointment with your hairdresser. We may well want to adjust the entire world. But initial we have to achieve the positions that will enable us do it.
Hi again. Still here? You didn’t throw your device at the wall? Just me? Ok, good. I have some numbers for you:
5.5% of S&P 500 companies (Standard and Poor 500 index) are women.
Of these, about half are blonde. The aforementioned Brexit cleaner-upper? Blonde. Ms Clinton? Blonde.
Research out of UBC’s Sauder School of Business is investigating this phenomenon of overrepresentation of blonde women in positions of leadership as compared to more pigmented women. They’ve identified four types of bias that may explain what’s happening:
1) Racial Bias. This one’s obvious. A blonde mane is not only useful in getting through airport security faster, but it’s also an extra little booster of whiteness for your next promotion.
2) Attractiveness Bias. There is an actual century of evidence on blondes being the better looking, more fun, more accessibly sexy counterparts. Betty & Veronica, I’m looking at you.
3) Preference for warmth in women. Apparently blonde women are seen as “kindler and gentler.” Given the vitriol I’m spitting on this very post, I’ll just go ahead and take their word for it. I’m decidedly not blonde.
4) Youth bias. You look younger I guess? Embedded in this point is the fact that women cover up their grey religiously because if they don’t, it’s a sign of having “let themselves go” or being tired and haggard (the horror!). Greying men instead merely look like silver foxes with well-padded wallets and a youth bias of their own.
Preliminary results in this work are also showing that blonde hair can prove disarming and alleviate perceived threats that non-blonde women may pose, such as being bitchy or bossy rather than simply authoritative. From the words of the researchers themselves, blonde women are “judged to be less independent minded and less willing take a stand than other women and than men.” So obviously, they are “allowed” to lead more often.
So yes, here we are, in 2016, walking on eggshells, touching up our roots, trying to be as non-threatening as possible in order to be afforded the right to demonstrate competence and the capacity to lead. Cool.
My super threatening brunette locks* and I are annoyed.
*Admittedly, if you’re my shower drain, I completely understand the threat.