August 29, 2023

Why Black Women Leaders are Set Up to Fail: The ‘Glass Cliff’

Women of colour

According to experts, Black women are often hired or promoted to leadership roles during a crisis, often referred to as the “glass cliff”.

The Glass Cliff

The term “glass cliff” was coined by a social and organizational psychologist, Michelle Ryan, at the University of Exeter.

It describes a situation where a woman or person of color gets promoted to a senior leadership role during a difficult time and when the risk of failure is high.

The “glass cliff” is essentially the opposite of the “glass ceiling” – a term that describes the barriers minorities face to advance in the workplace.

Due to being hired during a crisis, experts say it can be so daunting that it quickly leads to burnout or failure.

Many Black women found themselves on the “glass cliff” in 2020 when companies tried to increase diversity in their staffrooms following the murder of George Floyd.

Research shows that women and people of color are more likely to be appointed to poorly performing companies than white males.

Black Women’s Experiences

In an interview with ESSENCE, writer and leadership advisor Dr Yasmene Mumby detailed her experience on the glass cliff.

In her late twenties, Mumby was told she was close to losing sight in her left eye due to severe haemorrhaging from her stressful job.

Working at a respected firm for 12+ hour days whilst balancing her home life led to a blood clot that impaired her vision for a year.

“The doctors were preparing me to go completely blind,” she told ESSENCE.

“The body keeps the score, and that count is especially high up for a lot of Black women.”

Mumby has now chosen a slow, intentional life after teaching people how to treat her in the workplace.

An on-going concern

According to a report published by Lean In – an organization that advocates for equitable workplaces for women – Black women face more significant workplace advancement barriers than women of other races.

They are also more likely to face microaggressions and have their colleagues question their abilities and judgements.

Additionally, EXHALE – a well-being app for Black women and women of colour, shared its findings from a report that almost 2 in 5 (36%) Black women have left their jobs because they felt unsafe in their identity.

The report stated that while diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are expected in institutions today, fostering safe spaces for Black women requires more specific resources to focus on their mental and emotional well-being.

“As Black women, we’re surrounded with messages telling us we’re strong and resilient enough to manage stress, but this survey proves that a lack of necessary support negatively impacts us,” said Katara McCarty, founder of EXHALE.

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.