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Glass cliff effect has driven criticism of Rebekah Brooks, says leading academic

& lsquo;Glass cliff’ effect has driven criticism of Rebekah Brooks, says leading academic

A leading academic in human resources at Buckinghamshire New University has questioned the level of criticism levelled at former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks and suggested it could be attributed to a & lsquo;glass cliff’ faced by women in top jobs.

Dr Gloria Moss, Reader in Human Resources, has drawn attention to the fact that allegations of phone hacking abounded throughout Brooks’s tenure as CEO at News International following her appointment in 2009 and suggested she was given the role due to a dearth of men wanting the role.

Moss said as a result she was & lsquo;unsurprised’ that Mrs Brooks had resigned from her position with the publishers of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.

She said Mrs Brooks’s experience was typical of findings by Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam, of The University of Exeter, saying that women faced a better chance of breaking through a perceived & lsquo;glass ceiling’ to senior roles when an organisation was facing a crisis.

The & lsquo;glass cliff’ theory follows that women tend only to be appointed to senior leadership positions when an organisation is facing a difficult situation likely to go wrong, meaning it is less likely that men would be willing to take on the role.

Moss said: “Rebekah Brooks was appointed CEO of News International when allegations of phone-tapping had already surfaced so she was given the role at a time when the company’s future looked rocky. Perhaps the term fall guy should be changed to fall woman, in her case?

“Research by academics from Holland and the US (Bruckmuller and Branscombe) found that when a company was doing well, people preferred leaders with stereotypically male strengths, but when a company was in crisis they thought stereotypically female skills were needed to turn things around.

“Also, research by Dr Brescoll from Yale University found that high-flying career women who succeed in roles traditionally occupied by men were particularly vulnerable to losing their job, and seen as & lsquo;unlikeable’ and & lsquo;less competent’.

“It found that if they made a single mistake, a woman was more likely to be criticised than a man doing the same job and making the same mistake.

“Could it be argued that this is what we saw in the extraordinary ousting of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 - the first instance since Neville Chamberlain’s resignation of a Prime Minister in good health being forced out of office - and now in the criticisms levelled at Rebekah Brooks?

“Significantly, James Murdoch, Deputy Chief Operating Officer of News Corporation and Chairman of News International, is not being pinpointed for resignation in the way that Rebekah Brooks is. This is despite being the person who announced the closure of the News of the World and holding a more senior position, admitting to personally to approving pay-offs to settle out of court settlements, not to mention admitting to not having the complete picture when doing this.

“One other point worth noting is that just 12 per cent of directors of FTSE 100 companies in the UK are female. This all adds up to a rough ride for Rebekah Brooks which, it could be argued, a man would have faced were he in her position.”

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