Posted by: LesleySummerville | February 17, 2015

It takes a crisis…

I came across this article today, which explains some of the importance and usefulness of having gender diversity in the highest levels of companies and organizations.

In this article, several examples of failing companies and major operations involved in scandal were described. All of the companies given as examples were pulled out of these crises by hiring women to serve as leaders. One example given was the NFL, which hired four high-level women during their recent sexual assault scandals. The women now in charge have helped to reform the NFL’s policies pertaining to sexual assault and domestic violence.

The author of this article explains that women aren’t hired for high level positions in companies until a major crisis ensues because of underlying stereotypes about women’s leadership tactics. One particular stereotype that the author pointed out was the belief that women are afraid to take risks. According to this article, women are hired in leadership positions after some major disturbance because they are expected to bring about positive change in a calm-mannered and smooth way, rather than taking major risks that could greatly benefit or greatly hinder the company.

We talked about the “risk-taking” stereotype in class. We seemed to agree that men are more likely to take risks than women, which could absolutely be a positive characteristic, but could also result in the total destruction of an organization. The author of this article tried to stress that this was only a stereotype, not necessarily a fact. She included a link to a study ( which debunked the stereotype. In this study, it was found that men are more inclined to increase their risk-taking while under stress, while women do just the opposite. This statistic could be cause for the slippery slope that comes along with failing companies run by only men. However, the author of the study concluded with the belief that men and women generally take the same amount of risk overall.

One quote in the article caught my eye: “Organizations wait until a crisis to bring women into positions of power because they realize the current strategy isn’t working and a new approach is needed” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett. I thought the overarching theme and lesson of this article was that gender diversity in high level leadership positions is absolutely crucial to keep companies up and running, and to avoid those horrific crises that they encounter so often with entirely male-run companies. The author of this article stated that mixed-gender led companies consistently surpass companies run solely by men. After reading this article, I thought of the speech we watched by the Icelandic woman. In her speech, she emphasized the importance of having a mixture of genders in high-level positions to avoid those crises like the economic downfall of Iceland.

What do you all think that women can bring to the table in companies run by a mixture of men and women? Do you all believe that these companies’ downfalls were brought on because of their leaders’ risk taking, or simply poor leadership? Do you buy into the stereotype that women choose not to take as many risks as men? Do you have any other thoughts of why female leaders are often hired into companies in times of crisis?


  1. There has actually been quite a conversation going on about the phenomenon of bringing women leaders on board in times of crisis. If you Google “glass cliff” you will find numerous hits on the topic. Here is a quote from one that identifies the source of the term (as compared to concrete wall, glass ceiling, and labyrinth that we have read about):

    “Time and again, women are put in charge only when there’s a mess, and if they can’t engineer a quick cleanup, they’re shoved out the door. The academics Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam even coined a term for this phenomenon: They call it getting pushed over the glass cliff.”

    Here is the scholarly source by Ryan & Haslam (2005) and abstract:

    There has been much research and conjecture concerning the barriers women face in trying to climb the corporate ladder, with evidence suggesting that they typically confront a ‘glass ceiling’ while men are more likely to benefit from a ‘glass escalator’. But what happens when women do achieve leadership roles? And what sorts of positions are they given? This paper argues that while women are now achieving more high profile positions, they are more likely than men to find themselves on a ‘glass cliff’, such that their positions are risky or precarious. This hypothesis was investigated in an archival study examining the performance of FTSE 100 companies before and after the appointment of a male or female board member. The study revealed that during a period of overall stock-market decline those companies who appointed women to their boards were more likely to have experienced consistently bad performance in the preceding five months than those who appointed men. These results expose an additional, largely invisible, hurdle that women need to overcome in the workplace. Implications for the evaluation of women leaders are discussed and directions for future research are outlined.

    And as applied recently to Marissa Mayer, a highly visible woman leader who moved from the executive suite of Google to Yahoo (and to other women leaders noted within this article):

  2. I believe that having a mixture of men and women running an organization would seem to be beneficial. Even if there is not a large difference in skills, as we found from one of our readings, there is a difference in perspectives and experiences that women may be able to bring to a company. Although women are seen to be more democratic and communal, there is not much evidence of there being a large difference in effectiveness of men and women. I think that having a heterogeneous group of leaders is smart, whether it is a mixture of different cultures or race as long as all the individuals are focused on the same goal. While reading the post I was thinking of Halla, the Icelandic woman, also. I thought about the “feminine values” of her company and how they stressed that one was that they thought about the risks they were taking before taking them. This would draw into the stereotype of women. Even if this is not true, if someone has this stereotype in their head it is hard to break that mold. This would help to influence decisions. I also thought about how Halla stated that all the leaders during the downfall of the economy were men. She did not blame them, but talked about how if something was not working, then there needed to be a change. I think this is seen when women are pulled into leadership after a crisis. The businesses are looking for a change in dynamics in order to break up something that is not working. I think in the instances that were listed in the article, the crisis may not be that the leaders were men, but that the leaders were just poor at correcting problems. There was bad leadership and the leadership roles were just dominated by men at the time.

  3. I think diversity within a company is essential. Most of the readings in class have an overarching theme- add women change everything. It is even the title of one of our books. Women can be key assets to companies, especially those that are struggling with one majority population operating the company. If women are generalized, I think that women do not take as many risks, epically in high stress situations. This may be because women are communal, and think of the group. Women are not comfortable with power, which is essential for risky decisions. Knowing these generalizations points to the idea that women think of more than themselves when making a decision. I do not think this is a bad thing, but in the business world “high risk, high reward” is essential to success. There is a need for women in these businesses. Without diversity, downfall seems unavoidable. Adding women could lead to added security, and in stressful situations, the best decision for the group could be made by a woman.

  4. I think that women have a lot to bring, just as men do. I think women can bring different perspective to the entirety of the business just based on their genders and perceptions. I think the downfall of some companies is a combination of both poor leadership or incompetence that leads to risk taking. I do think the stereotype of women taking less risks is a true stereotype. I know there are obvious exception but in majority, I think women are more communal and think their decision through from the lens of how their decision affect others and the company as a whole. I know I definitely am less likely to take a risk when I consider that the repercussions will affect not just me but the people around me. I don’t think all stereotypes are bad, specifically this one. I think females are hired into positions during crisis due to biology. Women birth children and are primary caretakers, so when something scary or bad happens, the primary instinct is to run to mom. Children are more likely to trust other women rather than other men because the instinct is when something bad happens find a woman and she will fix it and make you feel better.So I think that while yes, it is definitely due to some stereotypes of women, I also think it may be a subconcious reaction.

  5. Women can bring something new to the table in the role of leadership, as we have been discussing in class that women want to be collaborative and want the relationship within the workplace. So just in that, it cause a different atmosphere and different outcomes within the company. I can see how women are less likely to take those large risks, but that can be a bad or a good thing; it could prevent from taking a huge risk that could harm the company but it could prevent you from taking the risk that could result in a huge payoff. This could however be the reason why a female might be hired in time of crisis because they might take a wild risk and chose the path that is solid and not crazy risk.

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