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Motives of Precarious Minority Leadership: A Challenge or a Sinking Ship?

English title Motives of Precarious Minority Leadership: A Challenge or a Sinking Ship?
Applicant Kulich Clara
Number 188934
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution NEAD Département de Psychologie Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.12.2019 - 30.11.2023
Approved amount 383'752.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Psychology
Sociology

Keywords (5)

glass cliff; gender; ethnicity; crisis; leadership

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Les femmes, tout comme les membres d’autres groupes minoritaires, sont sous-représentées dans des positions de pouvoir, en politique et dans l’économie. Le plafond de verre décrit les tendances discriminatoires qui conduisent à ces inégalités. La recherche en psychologie sociale s’est récemment concentrée sur les circonstances dans lesquelles ces groupes font face à ces barrières. Le phénomène de la falaise de verre suggère que les femmes et les membres de minorités ethniques connaissent une amélioration de leurs chances d’accéder à des positions de pouvoir durant des périodes instables, ou suite à des scandales et à d’autres évènements qui instaurent de la précarité.
Lay summary

Le présent projet examine le phénomène de la falaise de verre pour ce qui est de l’accès des femmes et d’autres minorités à des postes de pouvoir, notamment en politique et dans les entreprises. Le projet vise à comprendre les raisons et les motivations qui guident de telles décisions. L’hypothèse principale se concentre sur deux types de motivations qui pourraient être à l’origine d’une falaise de verre. D’une part, dans un contexte de crise, l’association des candidat.es minoritaires avec des compétences, ou avec un potentiel pour le changement, devrait conduire à la préférence d’un.e leader minoritaire, mais seulement si le but est de prendre la meilleure décision pour l’organisation. D’autre part, les décideurs qui expriment une préférence pour des candidat.es issu.es de groupes majoritaires devraient choisir un.e leader minoritaire s’ils souhaitent protéger un candidat majoritaire sur un poste à risque, ou s’ils veulent faire obstacle aux carrières minoritaires. Ce projet examine les conséquences de ces deux types de falaises de verre pour les candidat.es choisi.es et les organisations dans les domaines politique et économique

Nous analyserons des données secondaires d’élections politiques afin de tester si les femmes et des candidat.es d’ethnies minoritaires sont placé.es sur des listes pour des sièges qui sont particulièrement difficiles à gagner par rapport aux candidat.es majoritaires (falaise de verre). Nous nous intéresserons également aux conséquences de la réussite dans les élections. En parallèle, des expériences de vignettes seront utilisées afin de mieux comprendre les motivations des décideurs prônant la falaise de verre.

Nos résultats seront utiles pour le management the carrières individuelles ainsi que pour des décideurs dans les organisations et en politique.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 04.10.2019

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Abstract

Research into the glass cliff phenomenon has shown that women and ethnic minority groups are more likely to be appointed leaders in problematic contexts such as bad performance, performance fluctuations, and scandals. Although the phenomenon is well documented with archival, qualitative and experimental evidence, most investigations concern women and the business context, and only few have focused on ethnic minorities and the political context. Thus, the first general objective of this project is the examination of the glass cliff considering appointments of women and ethnic minorities in diverse organizational contexts (i.e., business and political). Moreover, the reasons for the glass cliff are still under-investigated. Thus, the second main objective is the systematic investigation of the conditions leading to glass cliff decisions. We developed the Motives and Mindset Model in which I situate the existing literature and my preliminary findings and point to missing links which I will investigate with the studies proposed in this project. In the glass cliff literature some scholars have advanced minority benign motives, where women are chosen for their potential to solve the crisis. Others have pointed to minority hostile motives where women are chosen as scapegoats, or to see them fail. I argue that benign as well as hostile motivations may lead to glass cliffs appointments and that it depends on decision makers’ primary focus, or “mindset”, whether a particular motive results in precarious appointments. A problem-based mindset focuses the attention of the decision maker on finding the best remedy for a failing organization. In this case, only benign decision makers should cause a glass cliff as minorities are seen as incorporating a change potential. Their atypicality (to deviate from the White male leader prototype) may thus “signal change” to observers of the organization, or they may be perceived to possess leadership traits (e.g., relational traits) deemed useful to actually handle the difficult situation. A group-based mindset focuses the decision makers on the candidates’ social category. Such a focus would most probably lead hostile decision makers to appoint minorities to a precarious position; either to protect a majority candidate from failure, and/or to purposely set a minority candidate up for failure. This project will thus test the predictions that glass cliff decisions are made by decision makers who are either (1) benign and problem-focused, or (2) hostile and group-focused. A triangulation of methodologies will be applied. Experimental studies will manipulate the mindsets of decision makers in political and business contexts and measure their ideological beliefs. Then their combined impact on glass cliff decisions measured (Research stream 1, Studies 1-4). Archival studies will analyze the impact of parties’ political orientation and voters’ group-based ideologies on precarious candidate nominations and political election outcomes (Research stream 2, Studies 5-6). Findings are expected to show that depending on the type of ideology (benign vs hostile) glass cliffs occur under problem or group-focused conditions. The impact of this research for the field of social psychology, leadership, and organizations will be a more nuanced picture of the crisis-minority leadership association, the underlying motives and potential consequences. Hostile glass cliffs likely leave the candidates on their own with the sinking ship, thus increasing their likelihood to fail and confirming the stereotype about minorities’ lack of leadership. Benign glass cliffs are likely accompanied by support from the organization providing the foundations for the candidate to succeed in this challenging situation because the solution of the problem is the main focus. Identifying these mechanisms is particularly important for the applied-intervention level. Thus, the findings will be useful for individuals’ career management, and for policy makers who want to prevent discrimination arising from glass cliffs.
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