Date of Degree

9-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor(s)

Kristen Shockley

Committee Members

Kristin Sommer

Erin Eatough

Loren Naidoo

Charles Scherbaum

Kristen Shockley

Subject Categories

Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Keywords

glass cliff, gender, leadership, diversity

Abstract

The glass cliff effect describes a real-world phenomenon in which women are more likely to be appointed to precarious leadership positions in poorly performing organizations, while men are more likely to be appointed to stable leadership positions in successful organizations (Ryan & Haslam, 2005). This effect represents a subtle, yet dangerous, form of gender discrimination that may limit workplace diversity as well as women’s ability to become successful leaders. Importantly, research exploring why women are preferred for more perilous leadership positions is lacking. The main focus of this dissertation is to systematically organize previous theory and empirically examine processes underlying the glass cliff effect. Data was collected through an online study in which participants evaluated fictional leadership candidates for an open leadership position (Study 1) as well as a media study in which coders content analyzed media perceptions regarding CEO appointments using a matched sample of 84 male and female Fortune 500 CEOs (Study 2). Findings from both studies most strongly demonstrate that females are likely to be preferred over males when being promoted to a precarious position as a way for the organization to signal change. Theoretical implications of the study findings regarding gender and leadership as well as practical implications regarding organizational procedures and women’s careers are discussed.

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