Real transparency will break the glass ceiling

Organisations have spent a lot of time in recent years addressing the issues
associated with the glass ceiling. And just as organisations start to pay
serious attention to removing the remaining barriers preventing women from
moving to senior positions, a new phenomenon has been identified in the media.
That is, a concern about job security for some women in senior management
positions because the glass ceiling has been removed, only to be replaced by a
glass cliff.

The findings are from a recent study by Exeter
University, which suggests that
female executives are more likely than their male counterparts to find
themselves in precarious jobs with a high risk of failure. The study argued
that women who break through the glass ceiling into senior management often
find themselves on the edge of a glass cliff, with evidence appearing to show
that FTSE 100 companies that put a woman on their board experienced in the
run-up to that appointment consistently worse share price performance than
those companies that appointed only men.

It can be argued that in times of low share prices, any new appointees face
challenging roles, and the risks they face are the same, regardless of gender.
However, it is essential that any promotion is backed up with sufficient
experience, development and support so that newly appointed board members have
in their armoury everything they need to succeed.

The study challenges all leaders to consider their recruitment actions. What
I take from the study is the need for all organisations to continue to work
hard to create an environment that is predicated on meritocracy and

The challenge facing chief executives now is to support all senior staff so
that promotion opportunities are not considered to lead to a glass cliff, but
are instead seen as what they should be – an excellent opportunity to develop
and to add value. An organisation should be looking to develop a culture where
there is a "glass lift" with a transparent approach to development
and opportunities at all levels of management.

Development from junior management through to senior management must come
with stretching personal development objectives. If you reach the senior
management grade there is even more reason to pursue the development path, as
staying ahead of the game requires significant effort.

If an organisation considers career development opportunities for all of its staff and identifies clear career paths at each
management grade, then there should be clarity around the competencies and
capabilities that are valued at the top of the organisation regardless of

It sounds like utopia. And it won’t happen overnight. But there is no reason
why, with effort and commitment, it cannot be delivered.

By John Connolly, chief executive and
senior partner, Deloitte

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