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Women Called up for Crisis Management


A large number of business leaders will only appoint a woman into a very senior post in times of crisis and poor performance, according to a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report.

The CIPD said that this leaves female leaders facing a form of hidden discrimination that makes them more likely to fail than their male counterparts.

Women in the boardroom: the risks of being at the top conducted by the University of Exeter, pulls research together that shows women are more likely to be appointed at a time when organisations experience poor performance and often set up to fail:

  • Company performance leading up to the appointment of a director differs depending on the gender of the appointee: for FTSE 100 companies that appointed men to their boards of directors, share price performance was relatively stable, both before and after the appointment. However, in a time of a general financial downturn in the stock market, companies that appointed a woman had experienced consistently poor performance in the months preceding the appointment (Ryan and Haslam 2005).

  • Business leaders are more likely to select the female candidate when the company's performance was said to be declining than when it was improving: a study of 83 senior managers participating in a regional Business Leaders' Forum (Haslam and Ryan 2006, Study 4). In a scenario that involved appointing a financial director to a company these business leaders were much more likely to see the female candidate as suitable for the position when the organisation was experiencing a marked downturn in performance.

  • Research findings also support the notion that the glass cliff can be seen as an opportunity (Haslam and Ryan 2006): in response to a scenario involving the appointment of a financial
    director, business leaders believed that a risky situation was seen to provide a male candidate with a much lower quality of opportunity than a non-risky situation. However, the opposite was true for an equally qualified female candidate.

Dianah Worman, CIPD diversity adviser, said that female leaders were "often set up to fail".

"Due to limited opportunities open to female leaders many are forced to take the more difficult jobs in organisations with a history of poor performance, perpetuating the myth that women are poor performers in senior positions, and covering up the true extent of discrimination for the most desirable senior management positions," Worman said.

"But the growth in the number of successful small businesses owned by women goes someway to indicate their business and leadership capabilities and highlights the talent other large organisations are missing. So old fashion attitudes are not only unfair and discriminatory towards women but they leave organisations shooting themselves in the foot.

"It is in the best interests of business to take action to enable achievement rather than sitting back and hoping for the best - organisations need to open their doors to the leadership capabilities of both halves of the population, regardless of the performance of the organisation," she added.


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