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What Is The Glass Cliff and Why Does It Exist?

Updated: May 2, 2023

Who Can See the Glass Cliff?

We've all been in the middle of a crisis at work. Something at your company has gone awry, there is some kind of oversight to be dealt with, and it can feel like all of the carefully aligned pieces are suddenly sent into chaos, scattered everywhere. This is a familiar experience and an uncomfortable one.

Why Wait Until Times of Crisis?

The dominant logic in corporate culture suggests that women are better, in a leadership position, at managing risk—coming in to clean up an existing mess or making the best of a bad situation. The reality is a little more circular. Research suggests that "women were more likely than men to be placed in positions already associated with poor company performance." When there is already a downturn in the revenue generated by a firm, women are granted leadership positions to redress disaster. Recent business research has identified this pattern as "the Glass Cliff."

Establishing Robust Crisis Prevention

Just as, on average, teams make better business decisions than individuals, so too does a gender-balanced workplace reduce business risk. This is not because of the common-sense reasoning that women are risk-averse, or make safer decisions, but because the kind of networked awareness women’s leadership offers can serve as robust crisis prevention. A spread of leadership style, attention type, and areas of focus, is an invaluable safety net. Leadership executed by women takes notice of the interconnectedness of coworkers, team members, and systems. Women know to value perception – sitting quietly and connecting dots – and favor inductive reasoning. Firms with a higher proportion of women in leadership are more likely to disclose potential risks. Additionally, the presence of women in leadership roles decreases the likelihood of damaging controversy.

Implementing gender balance inside of your work ecosystem is likely to minimize unexpected pitfalls.

Praise For the Mitigators

Women in a corporate setting bring a unique kind of intelligence that too often goes unnoticed. But isn't the fact that you didn't notice, when discussing how best to mitigate all kinds of business problems, precisely the desired outcome? There is less financial crisis, no scandal, no mass exodus. A networked systems orientation allows leaders with a more feminine style of leadership to know just who to call or what lever to pull to prevent a negative outcome. However, because of its quiet, preventative nature, this work can be difficult for managers to measure and reward. It is much easier to praise the noisy action of crisis correction once a negative consequence has already happened.

How to See the Value of ‘Nothing Happening’

How to See the Value of ‘Nothing Happening’

Over the past decade, 100% Capacity has gathered research to understand why gender balance is a key driver in reducing business problems for companies. When working from the seven areas of impact that arise from implementing gender balance in the workplace, the practice of noticing the benefits of reducing exposure demands a conscious realignment of leadership. Seeing these sometimes invisiblized benefits requires a new, clear, and focused lens.

The Big 7 and the Impact of Gender Balance

Taking time to observe when nothing is happening only on the surface takes skill and practice. Particularly when complex feminine leadership strategies are being deployed unseen and underleveraged. Jenny Odell, author and Stanford professor says in her 2019 book How to Do Nothing that “simple awareness is the seed of responsibility.” Odell's elegant point is well taken. Where women are exercising their awareness, so too are they preventing liabilities for a given firm. At 100% Capacity we mobilize the value of women performing risk management on 3 levels:

  1. Women are aware of a wide network of interconnected relationships and systems.

  2. Designing actions, network awareness allows for better, more engaged decision making and responsibility, accurate prediction of potential negative impacts.

  3. Rewarding the often-unnoticed risk management and mitigation strategies applied by women begins by building new awareness

Implementing a science-based, data-driven framework for realizing the corporate performance value of gender balance draws our awareness towards otherwise unnoticed value. This allows us to amplify it, reward it, and leverage it strategically. The 100% Capacity assessment and tools are designed to support companies in realizing the business value of gender balance with positive impacts on innovation, strategy, and risk management.

100% Capacity is a SaaS based platform for teams committed to leveraging gender balance to deliver corporate performance. You can find us at


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