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Balancing on the Edge

Women at the top face a glass cliff
Michelle Ryan

What happens when women start to break through the glass ceiling and take on leadership roles? Research at the University of Exeter suggests that women at the top may experience very different challenges from men. They may face a 'glass cliff', whereby women are more likely to be given precarious or risky  leaderships roles. While men are given safer and more secure jobs, women at all levels often feel that they have been ‘set up to fail’. They are asked to take on difficult jobs without being given enough information and tools to fulfil their roles. These precarious leadership positions are incredible stressful and may lead to the increasing number of women who are departing senior management positions.

Research into the precariousness of the glass cliff has examined appointments in top UK corporations, experiments in the lab, and interviews with women who have
experienced glass cliff positions. The research has focused on documenting the existence of the phenomenon and understanding the psychological processes that contribute to the appointment of women to precarious positions, such as scapegoating, gender stereotyping,
organizational strategy, and sexism.

Dr. Michelle Ryan is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of Exeter, UK. She is a leading scholar in the field of gender discrimination in the workplace. She completed her PhD at the Australian National University examining gender differences in the self concept. She moved to the University of Exeter in 2003, where, together with her colleagues she has uncovered the phenomenon of the glass cliff. Her work on the glass cliff is represented in top academic journals (both management and psychology), industry publications, and has been followed in the media including BBC, CNN and all major British Newspapers.

Jantina Tammes and the Jantina Tammes Chair
After admitting Aletta Jacobs as the first female student in 1871, the University of Groningen appointed Dr. Marie Loke in 1907 as the first female lector in the Netherlands. After this, appointing the first female professor was just a matter of time. Indeed, in 1911 Dr. Jantina Tammes (1871-1947) was the first woman in the Netherlands to be nominated for such a position. It took until 1919 before she was appointed as professor. Jantina Tammes was famous for her research in biology, more specifically in genetics and botany.
Dr. Michelle Ryan is the 7th Jantina Tammes Professor at the University of Groningen (Faculty of Economics and Business). The Jantina Tammes Chair has been established in order to enable female visiting professors to do research with colleagues here, in the field of gender studies. Every Jantina Tammes Professor teaches classes for one semester, and gives a public lecture at the end.

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