Is There a Glass Cliff in Local Government Management? Examining the Hiring and Departure of Women

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College of Business


Women are underrepresented in public sector leadership positions, including municipal management. We examine one explanation that may contribute to gender inequity in the profession—a “glass cliff” phenomenon whereby councils are more likely to hire women as managers during difficult times, increasing the likelihood for women to fail in the position. Using original observational data on municipal managers in Florida, we test whether municipalities are more likely to hire women during times of fiscal stress and whether women are more likely than men to leave the position if municipal finances do not improve. Our results show that increasing budget deficits are associated with municipalities hiring women as managers. Post-appointment, a lack of improvement in the deficit condition is associated with a higher probability of women, but not men, leaving the position. A glass cliff in municipal management could be one factor that hinders women from advancing within the field. Evidence for Practice: Municipalities are more likely to hire women as managers when faced with increasing budget deficits. When deficit conditions fail to improve post-appointment, women have a higher probability than men of leaving the position. The glass cliff may be one barrier to women's advancement in the field of municipal management, as a woman who faces a glass cliff may find it more difficult to reach top leadership positions again due to harm to her professional reputation. Objective evaluation metrics that benchmark the assessment of managers to the organizational condition and trends at the time of hire may be useful for scholars and practitioners alike in mitigating gender biases in municipal personnel decisions.

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Public Administration Review