Nav: Home

New research questions the 'Glass Cliff' and corroborates the persistent 'Glass Ceiling'

December 12, 2018

Amsterdam, December 12, 2018

Are women more likely to be appointed to leadership positions in crisis situations when companies are struggling with declining profits? The term "glass cliff" was coined by researchers Ryan and Haslam in the early 2000s to describe a phenomenon in which women are more likely than men to be promoted to precarious management positions with a higher risk of failure. Exemplar cases often used to support the theory include Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and Andrea Nahles, Social Democrat party leader in the German Bundestag. A new study published in The Leadership Quarterly, "The glass cliff myth? Evidence from German and the UK," explores whether the gender of new leaders ties in to corporate performance trends prior to appointments.

"Our study demonstrates that promotion patterns of female top managers in both Germany and the UK do not support the idea of a 'glass cliff', which we think is a positive finding. That said, we found that the 'glass ceiling' - the metaphor for the barrier that prevents women from advancing - does indeed persist. Women lead only a small number of the companies we studied," said authors Myriam Bechtoldt, PhD, of EBS University of Business and Law, Oestrich-Winkel, Germany, Christina Bannier, PhD, and Björn Rock, MSc of Justus Liebig University Gießen, Germany.

Building on previous research on this phenomenon, which focused primarily on board members in US and UK firms, the investigators looked at companies in Germany and the UK. Using data from 128 of the largest listed companies in Germany over a ten-year period (2005-2015), they used various analytical methods aimed at identifying not just correlations, but also causal relationships to determine whether companies are more likely to appoint women to the board when earnings fall. In a second step, they repeated the analysis with data from the 105 largest UK-listed companies from the same period.

The authors examined both accounting-based and stock market performance measures before key leadership appointments. Although stock returns are a more comprehensive and immediate metric for the analysis, they found that neither of the two types of performance measures prior to the appointment of women showed a weaker trend as compared to male board members. On average, German companies tended to perform better in the period before women were appointed to executive positions. One anomaly they found was that the German financial market reacted positively when companies that experienced a longer period of declining earnings appointed a woman to the board, perhaps implying that investors regarded such appointments as positive signals. In the UK, however, this effect was not replicated.

Whereas the study draws the positive conclusion that women do not run the risk of being promoted to precarious management positions significantly more frequently than men, at the same time, the small number of women who are promoted to the board of directors of listed companies at all is striking: Of over 500 board members appointed in Germany between 2005 and 2015, less than 8 percent were women. Moreover, no woman was appointed CEO in the companies surveyed. In general, the issue of lacking diversity in organizations did not attract much public attention in Germany prior to a nationwide corporate initiative, the Charta der Vielfalt, was launched in 2006 to promote diversity in companies and institutions. The picture in the UK is not much better: Only just over 10 percent of the newly appointed board members were women; three of them became CEOs.

The study's rigorous focus on causal effects distinguishes it from previous studies. Future analyses of other characteristics such as age, religion, or cultural aspects, would help to gain further insights into the role of socio-demographic factors in leadership appointments. Additionally, comparing performance trends after (in addition to before) the events would also add to public understanding.
Notes for editors

The article is "The glass cliff myth? - Evidence from Germany and the UK," by Myriam N. Bechtoldt, Christina E. Bannier, and Björn Rock ( It appears in TheLeadership Quarterly published by Elsevier and is openly available.

Full text of this article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Jonathan Davis, Communications Officer, Elsevier, at +31 20 485 2719 or Journalists who wish to interview the authors should contact Myriam Bechtoldt at

About The Leadership Quarterly
The Leadership Quarterly
is a social-science journal dedicated to advancing our understanding of leadership as a phenomenon, how to study it, as well as its practical implications. It publishes contributions from various disciplinary perspectives, including psychology broadly defined (i.e., industrial-organizational, social, evolutionary, biological, differential), management (i.e., organizational behavior, strategy, organizational theory), political science, sociology, economics (i.e., personnel, behavioral, labor), anthropology, history, and methodology. Equally desirable are contributions from multidisciplinary perspectives.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps institutions and professionals advance healthcare, open science and improve performance for the benefit of humanity. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support and professional education, including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, more than 38,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a global provider of information and analytics for professionals and business customers across industries.

Media contact
Jonathan Davis, Communications Officer
+31 20 485 2719


Related Data Articles:

Ups and downs in COVID-19 data may be caused by data reporting practices
As data accumulates on COVID-19 cases and deaths, researchers have observed patterns of peaks and valleys that repeat on a near-weekly basis.
Data centers use less energy than you think
Using the most detailed model to date of global data center energy use, researchers found that massive efficiency gains by data centers have kept energy use roughly flat over the past decade.
Storing data in music
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a technique for embedding data in music and transmitting it to a smartphone.
Life data economics: calling for new models to assess the value of human data
After the collapse of the blockchain bubble a number of research organisations are developing platforms to enable individual ownership of life data and establish the data valuation and pricing models.
Geoscience data group urges all scientific disciplines to make data open and accessible
Institutions, science funders, data repositories, publishers, researchers and scientific societies from all scientific disciplines must work together to ensure all scientific data are easy to find, access and use, according to a new commentary in Nature by members of the Enabling FAIR Data Steering Committee.
Democratizing data science
MIT researchers are hoping to advance the democratization of data science with a new tool for nonstatisticians that automatically generates models for analyzing raw data.
Getting the most out of atmospheric data analysis
An international team including researchers from Kanazawa University used a new approach to analyze an atmospheric data set spanning 18 years for the investigation of new-particle formation.
Ecologists ask: Should we be more transparent with data?
In a new Ecological Applications article, authors Stephen M. Powers and Stephanie E.
Should you share data of threatened species?
Scientists and conservationists have continually called for location data to be turned off in wildlife photos and publications to help preserve species but new research suggests there could be more to be gained by sharing a rare find, rather than obscuring it, in certain circumstances.
Futuristic data storage
The development of high-density data storage devices requires the highest possible density of elements in an array made up of individual nanomagnets.
More Data News and Data Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.