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Like many women before her, Theresa May was set up to fail

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25.05.2019

You can have sympathy for the person even while you are reading out a lengthy charge sheet. This is not a plea in mitigation for the departing prime minister. Theresa May was handed a difficult task and she botched it. By her own admission, she failed. But then there is no such thing as a good Brexit, and no one can achieve one.

In a pattern familiar from senior appointments made in business and elsewhere, the step up to the top job proved a stretch too far. The qualities which seemed to have served May pretty well in her career to that point proved a weakness and a vulnerability in the highest office. Sadly, she (or her advisers) believed her own hype. May appeared to relish being labelled “a bloody difficult woman”, and saw obstinacy as a virtue – fatal at a time when flexibility and imagination were required.

But May is not the first woman, and probably won’t be the last, to be invited to take on a leadership role in perilous circumstances. This is the classic “glass cliff” scenario. A glass ceiling may have been (temporarily) removed; but in a situation where the odds against success are high, there are suddenly fewer men available to take on ultimate responsibility. Time to let a plucky woman inch her way to the cliff edge.

The term glass cliff was coined in 2005 by the academics Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam of the University of Exeter. They found that women, and members of ethnic minority groups, are frequently offered promotions to top jobs when an organisation is struggling or facing a crisis. A misleading correlation between female leaders and business failure in fact reveals that men can be thin on the........

© The Guardian