The pitfalls of the 'glass cliff' for women of color in leadership

When women of color are selected for high-level leadership positions, hidden expectations are often placed upon them — and they tend to be unrealistic, according to a Nov. 6 article published in Fortune

The article described the "glass cliff," a phenomenon in which women of color are promoted to leadership positions in tumultuous times and expected to immediately fix a company's culture.

It is common for a Black woman to be "called in to clean up a mess she didn't create," according to the article — especially after the 2020 "racial reckoning," which exposed a need for more diverse leadership. Often, these women are not sufficiently supported in their roles. In addition, women of color are expected to enact cultural change, not just fill business needs, the article said. 

"Oftentimes when we’re hired, we’re not given the full breadth and scope of what’s really required to be successful in a role," Minda Harts, a workplace and equity consultant and assistant professor of public service at New York University, told Fortune. "It’s unfortunate that a lot of us are put in positions to turn water into wine."

Black women are more likely to be seen as strong and self-sacrificing, according to a 2014 Kennesaw (Ga.) State University study referenced by Fortune. This stereotype brings pressure and, according to the study can "increase the relationship between stress and depressive symptoms." And it can make it harder for Black women to leave when a new role is not a good fit. 

"The issue when you're 'the first' or 'the only' is that to many, you represent an entire industry," Dana Canedy, the first Black senior vice president and publisher at Simon & Schuster, who recently stepped down from her role, told The New York Times. "And I embrace that. However, it made it harder to make a decision that I felt was right for me."

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