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Read more about how UQ researchers are making an impact.

The invisible perils
of female success

You may be familiar with the metaphorical glass ceiling – the invisible barrier women face in career progression – but what happens after they break through?

The answer isn’t encouraging. UQ’s Professor Alex Haslam noticed that women are often appointed to leadership positions in organisations only when the organisations are in trouble.

In 2003, The Times published an article linking female board member appointments to a downturn in company performance.

“This conclusion was entirely unwarranted, since the evidence on which it was based was correlational,” Professor Haslam said.

Together with his colleague at the time, Professor Michelle Ryan from the University of Exeter, he decided to explore the true circumstances around the promotion of women to senior positions.

They found that not only did companies tend to improve or stabilise after women were appointed to the board of directors, but these women were more likely to be appointed when companies were already performing poorly – a phenomenon they dubbed the ‘glass cliff’.

Since then, they have found evidence of the phenomenon in a wide range of fields, including law and politics.

The term has become so recognised that it was shortlisted for the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2016.

Professor Haslam said the first step to addressing the issue was recognising that it exists. He recommended that organisations audit themselves to see what leadership opportunities and paths were open to women and how they are helped to negotiate them.

“In our experience this tends to uncover a range of inequalities – some subtle, others not. Having done this, you can set about trying to correct inequalities, preferably in consultation with both women and men, so that people understand what you are trying to do and why.”

Professors Haslam and Ryan are working on a book about the ‘glass cliff’, together with Dr Kim Peters from UQ’s School of Psychology.

To read the full story, visit the Research Impact website.

Volunteering to save the world

Professor Brent Ritchie is working with the Carbon Market Institute and Qantas to tackle climate change by encouraging consumers to buy voluntary carbon offsets.

To read the full story, visit the Research Impact website.

Faster than a speeding bullet

Professor Michael Smart is leading research at UQ’s Centre for Hypersonics that could revolutionise space exploration using scramjet technology.

To read the full story, visit the Research Impact website.

Pioneering changes for employees

Professor Gillian Whitehouse’s extensive research into gender and employment equity has contributed to new legislation with wide-reaching changes for Queensland employees.

To read the full story, visit the Research Impact website.