The clean-up crew

Quartz Obsession from five days ago brought to light a phenomenon women in leadership understand so very well. The newsletter, cheekily titled ‘the clean-up crew’ talks about the phenomenon of the glass cliff —the opposite of the glass ceiling (that invisible yet persistently difficult barrier between women and people of minorities and positions of power) and is coined by psychologists from the University of Exeter — which refers to the situation where women (and people of minorities and underrepresented communities) are only offered positions of leadership only when a company or an organisation is in a precarious situation e.g. businesses start to crumble, market share drops, etc. What was found is that men liked to avoid taking on the responsibility in a conflict or to be a fixer, while women who are often sidelined are more likely to take up the responsibility and lead. In this research, it was said that companies tend to finally hire women in times of crisis due to the fact that with their higher interpersonal skills, women are seen to be able to restore trust much more efficiently among employees, are better at resolving major problems, and are better at anticipating the emotional impact of situations and actions. Not only that, it was also proven that women are better built at handling crises than men, on top of the advantages with higher life expectancy rates. It was also found out that there was no way to beat around this issue, unless people hire women, especially for the position of leadership, from the beginning. So, HIRE WOMEN (and PAY THEM EQUALLY!)

While in some cases it may offer opportunities for talented women who are often otherwise underappreciated to rise to the challenge, the situation is still less than ideal, and not to mention, unfair! Women and minority people promoted to clean up the mess are more likely to be replaced by (white) men if they fail to fix the situation, thus completing a vicious systemic cycle. Meanwhile, women at work are still punished for getting pregnant, and Malaysia is still fighting for the right for a minimum of 7-day paternity leave, which at the moment of time, is still going nowhere.

“I have noticed, time and again, that when it’s bad, you call women to the rescue. Or as a former central bank governor said to me… ‘The men go to war, and the women pick up the pieces.’” – Christine Lagarde, incoming president of the ECB.

Related reads:

  • Glass cliffs and organisational saviours: barriers to minority leadership in work organisations?
  • I was a fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In mantra five years ago, which advocated for women to put in extra work to be heard at the table in the world that has no problems giving any voice for less than talented men. Today, I am echoing Michelle Obama in saying that shit does not work! It implies that it’s all up to women alone to fix the problem of gender inequality and none on institutions and society, and that should not happen.
  • And now we have to deal with this?
  • “We are increasing overhead by 50% because we failed to execute. It is not something to be proud of. It is humbling to go back to the labour market, hat-in-hand, asking for help. We did this when we hired you. We asked each of you to help us. You did not need us. There are plenty of great jobs. But we needed you. And thank goodness you came. We wouldn’t be here without you. But each of you was hired because the team before you failed to execute without you. And this is still true today.” I love this reframing on the act of hiring, which was traditionally often put around the idea that companies hire people because people need jobs, and in return people need to drop everything to work for them. I hope they walk the talk.

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