The primary reason that women and minorities are put into power because they lack the ability to alter the status quo through the construction of stress-bearing loyalties. Boards hire them as weak placeholders – a strategy of delay an wait.
The assignment of a woman to a leadership position in a troubled company is an admission by the board that they cannot come to consensus on a strategy, or that they have exhausted available strategies, and that further investment in the firm will perform negatively.
They are aware that a woman and minorities will be willing to take the position due to the status perk of obtaining a rare executive position even while winding a company down, while men will not find status in such an effort, but failure.
They are also aware of the positive PR that such appointments generate, and the negative that white male appointments generate under duress: in other words, the media will criticize a white male on his abilities, and laud the progressive appointment of a woman or minority in the hope that he or she succeeds. So the company is buying resistance to criticism by the press.
Women and minorities will readily walk off the glass cliff because they are desperate for status from other women and minorities for having obtained a rare position. Men of equal ability will evaluate taking such a position as career ending and avoid it. Women having held such a status position can hold that status even after their failure. Men having failed will carry the stigma of failure, not the status of having obtained a rare position. So the long term consequences of an executive position in a declining company vary by gender and race.
The glass ceiling exists because women are less loyal to their faction under stress than men of equal abilities. Meaning that men view women as less trustworthy. So, men view women (subconsciously) as untrustworthy under duress, if not weak allies at all times, and thereby untrustworthy in general.
Conversely, this weakness means that the status quo will not be upset, and further confusion created if a woman or minority is appointed.
Lastly, any professional c-level executive is very well aware prior to taking a position, of the prospects for the company. These things may seem complex to non-professionals, but in general it’s a matter of talent, alliances, incentives, assets, debt and time.
I’ve been writing and talking about this topic for two decades now. Outside of obvious industries selling consumer products to women, boards choose women execs as an admission of failure. (Xerox, HP, Yahoo…) Even Meg Whitman was a placeholder for the two founders.
Truth hurts. Science is uncomfortable. But it is what it is. We are unequal. And that’s a good thing.
The Propertarian Institute