Women Stranded on a Glass Cliff After Shattering the Glass Ceiling

Published on The Daily Femme – Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010

Contributed by Annamarya

I am only 27-years-old (soon to be 28, which I dread for some reason) and I’ve already held two management positions, recently held by men, where I was treated unfairly, taken less seriously and reprimanded more firmly because I brought my ladyjunk to the all manjunk picnic. It infuriates me to no end that I can file such gender-biased interplays away in my “professional experience” cabinet–and that I felt less than compelled and secure to retaliate.  But a recent study from Yale University’s School of Management suggests that this toxic gender-bias doesn’t only affect women. In fact, found the report, a person in a position traditionally occupied by the other gender is judged more harshly, their small mistakes dramatized to the point where they’re no longer remediable issues but, rather, substantial problems. To paraphrase study author Victoria Brescoll, a psychological scientist at Yale: it’s not enough to earn the high-level position, you have to keep it too.

For the study, which was published in the Association for Psychological Science journal, Psychological Science, Brescoll and co-author Erica Dawson and Eric Luis Uhlmann created different scenarios in which a woman and man, equal in stature, held high-status positions conventionally occupied by the opposite sex (think female police chief or male president of a women’s college; female CEO of an aerospace engineering firm and a chief judge) and failed at some aspect of their profession (the authors also flipped the script and created these scenarios to reflect tradition – male police chief, female president). Two hundred volunteers read the scenarios and when asked to determine whose mistake was less abhorrent, they criticized more grimly those who didn’t fit the typical gender expectation for the position, seeing them as “less competent and deserving of less status.” The effect is called a glass cliff, the notion that once a woman breaks through the glass ceiling, they’re “left stranded at an invisible precipice — in a high-risk position. One wrong step and they plummet into the abyss of professional failure.”

In other words: either way you slice it, women are screwed in the professional world. Sure, it’s reassuring to know that this gender-bias isn’t directed only towards women (think male nurses), which will hopefully create some type of comradery that will help us break gender-normative barriers even more fiercely and quickly. But when most high-level positions are traditionally dominated by men, and it’s women shattering those pesky glass ceiling that stand in the way of the success we deserve (more women in politics and higher-education), and people are more watchful and critical of the non-stereotypical gender, it’s hard not to be a little disheartened by these findings.

TIME: Healthland – On the Other Side of the Glass Ceiling, a Glass Cliff


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