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From the Concrete Wall to the Glass Cliff

What has changed for Women of Color in Leadership?


In 2001, Dr. Ella Bell and Stella Nkomo published a book called “Our Separate Ways.” The book was based on Black and White Women and the struggle for professional identity. These two authors introduced the phenomena of the concrete wall. Their research found that after Black women transitioned upward in their respective careers, at some point more attractive positions of authority stopped being readily available. Thus, essentially having this particular group hit a concrete wall. This concrete wall manifested itself through several characteristic traits. For example, daily doses of racism, being held to a higher standard, exclusion from information networks, challenges to their authority and hollow company commitments. More evidently, the struggle for Black women included sometimes climbing over, going around or breaking through that concrete wall in order to even see the glass ceiling.


Recently, I came across an article from CNN entitled Very rarely is it as good as it seems’: Black women in leadership are finding themselves on the ‘glass cliff’. Upon review, I said to myself, “Wow, a new twist on an old phenomena.” The article discussed what researchers are calling the “glass cliff.” According to further research, the “glass cliff” is where Black women find themselves appointed to leadership positions in either poorly performing companies or assignments where they are being asked to do more work without fully being supported and often going without being recognized for their contributions and/or not being rewarded. Sound familiar?


In comparison to twenty years ago, the barrier to career advancement for women of color still manifests in more subtle ways. I am not here to suggest that one group of women experience greater or lesser challenges in the workplace, but rather to highlight the specific nature of such barriers for Black women on leadership.



Resources:


‘Very rarely is it as good as it seems’: Black women in leadership are finding themselves on the ‘glass cliff’


Studies Show Women & Minority Leaders Have Shorter Tenures, Tenuous Support


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