The Glass Cliff Effect and Why Black Women Leaders Are Often “Last In, First Out”
Earlier this month, Claudine Gay’s resignation as the first Black woman to serve as president of Harvard sent shockwaves throughout the country, igniting conversations about the role that Black women play as both shield and target for elite institutions.
However, for many Black women, Dr. Gay’s resignation did not come as a surprise — and it’s not the beginning or end of an important conversation. Many of us are all too familiar with the inevitable reality of the “glass cliff effect,” in which Black women are picked to lead institutions or organizations when they are on the brink of collapse or in dire straits. The setup then contributes to the paradox of “last in, first out,” wherein Black women are the last to be hired and the first to be pushed out in a given workplace.
Black women are told from childhood that we have to be twice as good to get half as much, understanding that even when we are twice as good and we finally get that coveted leadership position, it will come with the heavy burdens of tokenism, misogynoir, undermining, and more, all rooted in anti-Blackness. Each of us has experienced our version of last in, first out, similar to what Dr. Gay endured; the main difference is that her experience reverberated in national headlines.
For Briana Young, a humanities scholar and social work practitioner, the double standards Black women leaders face in the workplace are clear. “The Black women in leadership I’ve worked with unfortunately still find themselves subject to validation through the biased standards of the institution; though their work and expertise could speak for itself, it is not allowed to in a place where they are not valued as equal counterparts,” she tells POPSUGAR. “Despite their diligent efforts and expertise, they are compelled to continually ‘prove themselves.’ . . . In essence, Black women must consistently exert extra effort to attain an equivalent level of trust and respect.”
Adia Harvey Wingfield, PhD, a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of “Gray Areas: How the Way We Work Perpetuates Racism and What We Can Do to Fix It,” has extensively researched the experiences of Black women in leadership positions. Dr. Wingfield points to Dr. Gay’s reality as an unfortunate yet unsurprising outcome.