SHE Matters

​​S.H.E. Matters: Exploring the Glass Cliff Phenomenon and Twitter

The concept of the glass ceiling has been a pervasive issue for women in the workplace for decades. It refers to an invisible barrier that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for women to rise up into higher positions within companies and industries.

But what about those who have made it past this barrier, only to face another incredible hurdle?

In this blog post, we will explore what the glass cliff is and how it affects female executives today, with a particular focus on Linda Yaccarino’s recent appointment as CEO of Twitter following Elon Musk’s short-lived and tumultuous tenure at the helm.

What is the Glass Cliff?

Built off the concept of the glass ceiling, “The glass cliff refers to the phenomenon whereby women (and members of other minority groups, such as those based on race or disability) are over-represented in leadership positions that are risky and precarious,” as explained by the University of Exeter.

This phenomenon was first identified by University of Exeter colleagues Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam in 2003 after they studied the appointment of female CEOs within the FTSE 100.

Specifically, they discovered that companies were more likely to appoint a female CEO during times of economic crisis or when the company was at risk of failure.

This finding demonstrates that women and minority employees can be unfairly placed in positions of greater responsibility without proper support or preparation, thus leaving them more likely to fail than their white male counterparts.

Some arguments point to the fact that this allows companies to appoint a woman as a scapegoat should she be unable to pull the business out of a downward spiral, all while gaining praise for their “diversity efforts.” They are then free to appoint another male CEO without much backlash.

Others, however, argue that there is insubstantial research into and evidence supporting this phenomenon, thereby dubbing it the “glass cliff myth.”

(Allegedly) Witnessing the Glass Cliff in Real Time

Why is the glass cliff relevant today? Simple: After Elon Musk announced that advertising executive Linda Yaccarino would take over as the new CEO of Twitter — following an onslaught of perceived business blunders by Musk himself — the glass cliff debate resurfaced.

“In addition to Yaccarino, Ellen Pao’s appointment at Reddit, Mary Barra at GM, Carly Fiorina at HP and Marissa Mayer at Yahoo are often cited examples of women promoted to top management at distressed companies,” as reported by Forbes.

This is especially notable given the rarity of female executives in tech, let alone at Twitter in specific.

Since taking the helm at Twitter, Musk has been scrutinized for firing top company executives, enacting mass layoffs (roughly 80% of the company workforce), upsetting the existing verification systems, and enacting overall changes that led many prominent advertisers to pull away from the platform entirely.

Following a slew of criticism and a self-promoted Twitter poll through which he asked his followers if he “should step down as the head of Twitter,” Musk promised to appoint a new CEO who would oversee the platform’s business operations.

Enter: former NBCUniversal ad chief Yaccarino.

“She is exactly what Twitter needs to start rebuilding advertiser trust, bring back big advertisers and really start improving Twitter’s ad business,” Insider Intelligence analyst Jasmine Enberg told AP News. “That said, there are still a lot of challenges and Yaccarino is going to have her hands full from day one.”

As a result, many have been left wondering: Did Musk leave Yaccarino teetering on the edge of a glass cliff at Twitter HQ?

SHE Matters — Even If She Teeters On the Edge

But what do you think?

Do you think Yaccarino is facing a glass cliff? Or do you know another woman placed in a similar position who overcame and conquered at the edge?

Please reach out to us or visit our S.H.E. Matters page to send in a submission for our review, and stay tuned here for more information!