WILL JULIA FALL OFF THE “GLASS CLIFF”?
Is Julia Gillard the latest woman to be standing on the edge of the “glass cliff”?
It’s the name given to the phenomenon whereby women are appointed to leadership roles in a time of crisis.
The name “glass cliff” was coined some years ago after research by British psychologists found that female professionals who reach senior posts are much more likely than men to be given “poisoned chalice” jobs in which they struggle to succeed. They finally break through the glass ceiling only to find themselves in a truly precarious position.
According to the UK Sunday Times in 2004:
“In the corporate world, companies that appoint women to leadership positions often tend to do so when the business is performing poorly, according to the study. This made it significantly harder for female executives and managers to do well because they were regularly blamed for failures that had begun before they started work.
Companies were more likely to appoint women to their boards when their share price was slipping; female barristers were more likely to be given unwinnable cases; female parliamentary candidates tended to be selected to fight opponents with large majorities in safe seats.
The result was the glass cliff phenomenon, in which the women who did crack the glass ceiling found themselves in a constant struggle to maintain their success.
Alex Haslam, Professor of Psychology at the University of Exeter, who led the research, said: ‘Gender discrimination is usually seen explicitly in terms of the glass ceiling, but we have found that the glass cliff is the next wave. Women are more likely to be appointed to precarious leadership positions than men’.”
Here in Australia we can point to Kristina Keneally former NSW State Premier – the first woman in the job – being handed just such a “poisoned chalice” when she was appointed in 2009. Nathan Rees had sensationally quit when Ms. Keneally accepted the mantle as the fourth Premier in the ALP’s reign – starting with Bob Carr in 1995. The Government was well past its use-by date when she took over.
As commentator Tracey Spicer wrote in the The Daily Telegraph:
“Once again a member of the fairer sex has been handed a poisoned chalice by her political masters. Where’s the fairness in that?
Devout Catholic Kristina Keneally should have heeded the words of the founder of Christian monasticism, Saint Benedict: Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil! Drink the poison yourself.
While it’s easy to see Joe Tripodi or Eddie Obeid as the devil incarnate, they’re merely continuing a fine Labor party tradition of nobbling promising fillies before they reach the starting gate.
Remember Carmen Lawrence? She became Australia’s first female Premier in February 1990 after being given a hospital pass by Peter Dowding, who’d resigned over the WA Inc. affair.
Six months later another leading light of the Left, Joan Kirner, was picking up the pieces in Victoria with financial institutions on the brink of insolvency and a towering budget deficit – courtesy of John Cain.
Who better than a woman to clean up a man’s mess? In both cases capable, intelligent and popular politicians were burned by the public ire, within a brief few years.”
In her 2005 book Media Tarts, well before we’d ever heard of Julia Gillard, author Julia Baird wrote:
“Since the 1970s journalists have been trumpeting the rise of the female politician and selecting likely candidates for our first woman prime minister. Yet each of those touted as ‘the woman most likely to’ has failed to fulfil the prophecy, ending up discarded or discredited. Bronwyn Bishop, Natasha Stott Despoja, Cheryl Kernot, Carmen Lawrence, Pauline Hanson their grisly heads are displayed on spikes in political memory, serving as a warning to those who wish to follow them. In the noughties, women are told to present a small target. The message is clear: fly too high, and you will be shot down. And look like a fool while you fall.
Baird argued: “the difference between what women are thought to bring to politics, and what they actually do bring has played havoc with the careers of our most successful female politicians. Trumpeted as sincere, honest and accessible, when they turn out to be human, the pundits marvel and sneer. Women and power, water and oil or at least that’s what you might think if you relied only on the media for information.”
So, does Julia Gillard qualify as the latest to be peering into the abyss from the edge of the glass cliff?
Or is the position she finds herself in, as a leader under siege, all of her own making?
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