Explaining Subconscious Gender Bias

One of the most important findings regarding the Glass Cliff is that people respond differently to its impact, causes, and very existence based on their own personal backgrounds and beliefs. For instance, studies show that women are much more likely to acknowledge pernicious causes of the phenomenon, whereas men are likely to blame benign causes or brush off that it even exists at all. This makes explaining the significance of the Glass Cliff difficult and getting audiences to understand why it matters of utmost importance. Because a general audience will contain both women and men with various beliefs about gender equality in the workplace and the persistence of barriers preventing women from holding leadership positions, I foresee taking a very objective, but thorough approach to explaining my research. The first step will be to explain what the Glass Cliff even means. Luckily, the idea of a Glass Ceiling is widely recognized and more accepted in society, so the naming of the Glass Cliff after a similar analogy ought to help people understand its definition. When explaining what it is, I will be sure to do so in a very straightforward, neutral way, so as not to alienate members of the audience who may be more averse to discussing the lack of gender equality in our society. Because evidence in the research points to men being more likely than women to dismiss the Glass Cliff and its importance, I will also be sure to explain how its effects are harmful to both men and women. There is much research that shows that more diverse company leadership leads to better financial earnings and problem solving ability, as well as giving companies a good reputation when it comes to diversity and inclusion. If I can emphasize that the Glass Cliff isn’t about blaming men for gender discrimination, but rather recognizing that the status quo of one gender, one race, leadership isn’t ideal for anyone in society, I hope to get the audience interested in what else I have to say. When beginning to discuss the causes of the Glass Cliff, which is what my research focuses on specifically, I hypothesize that I will mainly be discussing subconscious gender stereotyping. Unfortunately, because it is subconscious, people may find it difficult to recognize its occurence. But as I said before, if I can highlight how raising awareness of these subconscious judgments we make about people based on their gender negatively impacts everyone, I believe the audience will have an easier time accepting that. Finally, the last part of my research will be focusing on potential solutions to the Glass Cliff. This will likely be the most difficult aspect of my research to explain without coming across as potentially controversial; it is a fact of life that humans are uncomfortable with change, and mitigating the impact of the Glass Cliff will certainly require just that. I plan to, once again, be straightforward, but also hopeful. If I can paint a picture of what our society and world could look and be like if gender equality in leadership became more of a norm, the audience may be left feeling hopeful and encouraged, rather than criticized or guilty.

Currently, I plan to begin my career as a CPA at one of the Big Four Public Accounting firms in either Advisory or Tax services, and am also considering going to Law school to continue my career in the legal field. With this plan in mind, I know I’ll be working with many different audiences because my potential career options include working with a great number of clients and industries. In Public Accounting, much of the work done is client-facing. It’s extremely important to be able to communicate your ideas and findings with clients, whether I go into audit, tax, or advisory. All three lines of service rely on people from the firm working for and alongside clients whose area of expertise is likely outside of the accounting field; retaining clients and having a positive experience can only occur if we, as the accountants, can get our work done for them and make sure they understand it. Likewise, if I go into law, I will be working with individuals or companies who aren’t legal experts. Additionally, while in Law School, my peers will likely be students with backgrounds very different from mine. Many students who hope to attend Law School study political science/ history in Undergrad, so my business background will not necessarily be the norm. I look forward to having the opportunity to have my two sets of interests mix in this way, and will need to keep in mind the context of other people’s backgrounds when expressing my opinions and listening to theirs. As far as legal clients, my goal will primarily be to help win cases, however it’s crucial that I can communicate with the client and make sure our goals are aligned in order to make that happen. 

As of now, my main goal with communicating the findings of my research is to reach as many people as possible. This is because the Glass Cliff isn’t widely recognized and many studies on gender bias and discriminatino in general point to raising awareness as an imperative first step. Additionally, research shows that peoples’ gender and position in a company can lead to varying reactions to the Glass Cliff. For example, men tend to be more likely to brush off its existence entirely, lower level men and women are more likely to accept it, and whether or not a woman will view its causes as benign or malign can depend upon her position in a company. Although this may make choosing a way to share my research with a broader audience somewhat challenging, I’ve read many studies on unconscious biases in general that explain how a lack of awareness is often the origin of issues like the Glass Cliff. More specifically, I will be researching how people attribute success and failure of female leaders differently than male ones, the causes of this, and potential solutions. Across all sectors, female leaders who are successful aren’t given personal credit for their successes- but rather external factors tend to be attributed to their success; male leaders who succeed are seen as having traits that make them a good leader. On the other hand, when it comes to failure, female leaders are typically blamed as being incompetenet or personally responsible for an organizational failure, whereas for men, external factors are attributed as the cause. This leads female leaders who fail to face a nearly impossible challenge of ever holding a leadership position again, and women who succeed aren’t actually given the credit they deserve, inhibiting progress to be made across the board for female leaders. As I mentioned before, I hope to make sure I present my findings in an objective way that explains how the Glass Cliff is detrimental to all of society, which will hopefully allow more people to accept its persistence. Additionally, I hope to create a final product that is digitized in some way. Whether a video, podcast, or some type of online graphic, I want my findings to be able to be easily shared through the Internet, which makes it so easy for information to be spread widely and efficiently. I’m hoping that some of the people I share my findings with will then share it with others, and this will most easily be done if my final product is easy to understand, explain, and share by people other than myself. 

My current career plan is to start working at a Big Four accounting firm post-undergrad in either Tax or Advisory services. Although the number of women and men in entry level positions in many sectors is generally equal, there is a large drop off in the advancement of women into leadership positions as compared to men, and the Glass Cliff can lead to unequal opportunities for leadership roles. After studying some of the underlying reasons for this, many of which lie in unconscious biases, I will be very aware of instances of gender discrimination occurring wherever I work. Although as an entry level employee I may not be able to have a significant impact on how other employees act, I can certainly do my part to seek out instances where people may attribute success and failure to men and women differently, which I can ultimately use as a learning experience as to how I can help prevent this when I hopefully reach my senior levels in my career. Furthermore, in Public Accounting I will be dealing with clients in many different industries. My research has already shown me that the Glass cliff is prevalent across all sectors, so I will be able to try my best to identify and potentially point out to employees who are working with me on projects instances in other companies where this is occurring. By pointing out other peoples’ gender bias, people may become aware of their own without feeling criticized and alienated. I am hopeful that my experience with sharing the findings of my research with my peers and other members of the Pitt community, I will learn the best way to handle explaining this phenomenon to people in the real world, and when it really matters. 

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