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13 Wm. & Mary J. Women & L. 775 (2006-2007)
Legal Work and the Glass Cliff: Evidence That Women Are Preferentially Selected to Lead Problematic Cases

handle is hein.journals/wmjwl13 and id is 781 raw text is: LEGAL WORK AND THE GLASS CLIFF: EVIDENCE THAT
WOMEN ARE PREFERENTIALLY SELECTED TO LEAD
PROBLEMATIC CASES
JULIE S. ASHBY, MICHELLE K. RYAN, AND S. ALEXANDER
HASLAM*
ABSTRACT
Recent archival and experimental research by Ryan and Haslam
has revealed the phenomenon of the glass cliff whereby women are
more likely than men to be appointed to risky or precarious leader-
ship positions in problematic organizational circumstances. This
paper extends research on the glass cliff by examining the precari-
ousness of the cases women are assigned in a legal context. An exper-
imental study conducted with law students (N = 114) investigated
the appointment of a candidate to lead a legal case that was defined
as either low-risk or high-risk. Commensurate with patterns observed
in other domains, results indicated that a male candidate was as likely
as a female to be selected as lead counsel for a low-risk case but that
there was a strong preference for a female rather than a male ap-
pointment for a high-risk case. The study also examines the way in
which participants' evaluations of candidates and their perceptions
of risk and opportunity related to candidate selection. Implications
and directions for future research are discussed.
INTRODUCTION
Despite evidence that women are beginning to break through the
glass ceiling (the invisible barrier preventing them from achieving
leadership positions),' gender equality in organizational life has yet
to be achieved. On a positive note, just under half of all women in full-
time work in Britain are in managerial, professional, and associate
professional jobs.2 Indeed, the last fifteen years have seen the num-
ber of female executives double.3 Yet in spite of this increase, women
* Acknowledgement: We are grateful to Simon Honeyball for his help with data
collection and Mark Nolan for his comments on an earlier version of this paper. This
research was partially funded by grants from the Leverhulme Trust (Grant F.00144.V)
and the European Social Fund (Project Reference 4130).
1. David A. Cotter et al., The Glass Ceiling Effect, 80 Soc. FORCES 655, 656-57 (2001).
2. EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES COMM. (EOC), FACTS ABOUT WOMEN AND MEN IN GREAT
BRITAIN 16 (2004), available at http://www.eoc.org.uk/PDF/facts-about_2004-gb.pdf.
3. EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES COMM. (EOC), WOMENAND MEN IN BRITAIN: MANAGEMENT

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