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Glass Cliffs for Women

Leslie Grossman — the leadership guru for women — and I lead a room on Clubhouse once a week on a unique, hopefully out-of-the-box topic concerning women’s growing power in business and the trajectories of our lives’ work, whatever that might be.

Leslie chose a topic recently that has stayed with me ever since: the glass cliff. This is not to be confused with the term glass ceiling, which was coined in 1978 and centers around an invisible barrier for women that keeps us just out of contention for the top spots in business. Yes, research has shown that the glass ceiling, while seemingly better these days, still exists, especially in places such as the Fortune 500, which I contend is not our breeding ground anyway. Our strengths are not made for a Titanic approach to building businesses, which might include setting a course and not deviating from it — not a truly innovative, agile approach to building. But I digress.

The glass cliff is about a strange (or it should be considered strange) pattern that exists where when a company is in trouble — real trouble — the board is more prone to bringing in a female CEO. Seriously? At first it made me laugh. It’s like that friend who always does what you cautioned might not serve her well, and then calls you in a panic to bail her out. Only it’s not.

Anyway, there are numerous examples including Anne Mulcahy, at Xerox and Mary Barra, who still serves as the CEO of General Motors.

Now, being the contrarian that I am, I can’t help but contend that maybe it’s not a “girl” thing, because I can give you numerous examples of corporate sinking ships that had undergone a change in male leadership, but what is indisputable is the fact that women do seem to get a chance to shine more when a company is totally socked in by clouds and haze.

Our Clubhouse discussion was interesting. What if women just happen to have the kinds of qualities that work well in touchy situations? One study recently published by Harvard Business Review, suggests that women are inspirational and empathetic, with greater proficiency than men. Let’s face it, when Xerox was flailing, morale was at an all-time low, and people were more concerned with their next job opportunity outside the company than trying to fix the one they were at. What tools would be perfect for that scenario? Empathy and inspiration sure do come to mind.

And, then the conversation took a turn as we discussed why those types of qualities, or assets, are not mentioned in job listings. We wondered if head hunters have a list of qualifications, and if they just might —surprise, surprise — consist of historically patriarchal attributes.

Maybe we need to change the way we present our strengths on resumes and in job outreach. What if you send a resume that begins with your view of what the job description should be for the role you are seeking? You could describe the company culture, and then instead of listing your past jobs and successes in them, you could list your qualifications that would work well in the job you wish to obtain. What if words such as inspirational were part of your resume?

I can hear you now: “Humble, Christine?” I say the days of a shy-blushing-bride, humble approach to your career are over. I say you should confidently, factually lay out your qualifications and examples of them to those you wish to call your business team.

Vocabulary in business hasn’t changed much in the last 60 years, and it’s a male-based dictionary when it comes to business. Let’s start to add some vocabulary that might not be at the tips of their tongues, all the while making sure we leave gender out of it. Slowly, if you will.

Anyway, look glass cliff up on GOOGLE, or listen to Leslie and me talk about the subject on a podcast we decided to do after our Clubhouse meeting brought forth so many interesting questions and turns in the road.


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