Are Female Executives Over-represented in Precarious Leadership Positions?


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We use a sample of CEO appointments at US corporations over the years 1992–2004 to test the ‘glass cliff’ hypothesis, which posits that females are appointed to leadership positions at firms that are in a precarious financial condition. Our analysis utilizes three measures of stock-price-based financial performance and two distinct control samples of appointments of males to the CEO position. We find that corporate performance preceding CEO appointments tends to favor females, implying that females (males) are appointed to the CEO position largely at times when the firm is in relatively better (worse) financial health. Disaggregating the data by appointments in up versus down markets, at high-risk versus low-risk firms, and by calendar time yield similar conclusions. There appears to be no glass cliff facing female CEOs at US firms. Our findings suggest a need for additional research to identify where and for what types of positions this phenomenon is prevalent.