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Last Updated: Monday, 6 September, 2004, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Women looking over glass cliffs
By Paul Rincon
BBC News Online science staff, at the BA festival

Femail computer user (BBC)
You can join the board but we have a special job for you...
Women are being "parachuted" into precarious positions within companies where there is a high risk of failure, according to a psychologist.

This "glass cliff" may represent a new form of subtle discrimination against minorities, Prof Alex Haslam believes.

His data suggests women are only being hired to leadership positions once a company is doing badly.

The results of his study are being presented at the British Association's Festival of Science in Exeter.

Prof Haslam found that, given the choice between a male and a female candidate, companies were much more likely to choose the female candidate when the company was doing badly.

"It is a very interesting phenomenon, one that merits much more investigation because it's the next wave of subtle discrimination," the professor of social psychology at Exeter University claimed on Monday.

"I think it applies to any groups who are not part of that group that is part of making the decisions."

The glass ceiling - phrase coined in 1984 to mean an invisible barrier to women being promoted beyond middle management
Prof Haslam said his data shed light on the factors underlying findings from Cranfield University that FTSE 100 companies with women on their boards performed worse than those with all-male boards.

The Cranfield study was interpreted by some as evidence that women were "wreaking havoc in the boardrooms", Prof Haslam said.

He added that women were now breaking the "glass ceiling". But he said: "I think it is important to examine where those decisions are being made.

Prof Haslam said the phenomenon was not confined to any one profession or social group, but could be found across the business spectrum.

He said there was evidence that women in the legal profession, for example, were often given the harder cases.

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