Women Leaders in Conditions of Failure / Dora Leonor Mesa

Political Participation of women and Psychology (Extract)

J. Fransciso Morales* – Isabel Cuadrado**

The distance that measures the expanding legislation to favor the political participation of women and the data that, again and again, speak about a permanent male domination of this field serves as a reminder of the struggles of women to achieve equality.  These have been developing without interruption since the days of the first suffragists until now and, as is widely-known, with an active opposition and tenacity of extensive and important parts of society, opposition that, not having been the object of systematic analysis, is unknown in its structure and dynamics.

The question is what can psychology contribute in this area, meaning, if and how can it help reveal the enigma of the disequilibrium of genders in political participation.  At first glance, it appears that it can reveal only a little.  Definitely, and as Garzon indicates (2001, p. 347), traditional Political Psychology has its objects of study perfectly delimited (in words of the author, it has “a circumscribed collection of topics”), and between those one cannot find the central issue that is revealed in this work.

At the current time, Political Psychology is open to new ways of thinking.  Concretely, the new approach of political psychology as a resource is moving away from the traditional concept of discipline and is becoming “a strategy, a tool to relate different realities.”  Upon attempting to demonstrate that the male domination in the confines of politics is a reflection of consolidated social practices and that its disappearance would require a deep social change, it is connected with the newly supported approach by the cited author.

The glass cliff in the political world

In an attempt to understand the low female representation in the political leadership, Ryan, Haslam and Kulich (2010) have investigated the types of political opportunities that women are offered, the positions they achieve when they take on political positions and the barriers to them that they face up to to carry out such positions.  For that reason, they examine those aspects from the perfect of the “glass cliff” (crystal precipice).  This focus supports his view that women have a better chance than men of occupying positions of leadership that involve a higher risk of failure (Ryan and Haslam, 2005, 2007).

This line of investigation has centered until now on organizational leadership.  In this world, the authors start reviewing the data from 100 British businesses and confirming that women tend to be in positions of leadership in those companies that are going through moments of crisis.  Over the various studies carried out in different contexts and with diverse participants, Haslam and Ryan (2008) confirmed that it was considered more appropriate for a women candidate to occupy a position of leadership than a man when the performance of a company is worsening (as opposed to when it is improving).

A study carried out recently in Spain (Cuadrado, Molero, and Garcia, 2009) has confirmed this fact, showing that, in conditions of failure, the women are better evaluated than the men, meaning, they are considered more competent to occupy those positions.  On the contrary, men are better evaluated than the women in conditions of success.

Due to that in said study it is unknown if this phenomenon is due to the experience or lower qualifications of women in this scope or if it is due more directly to gender, per se, Ryan et. al. (2010), carried out a study in that they control this and other variables.  In the said study, they examined the preference for men or women candidates in the selection phase of a fictitious by election (local elections held to fill a position when the holder resigns or dies).  It was found that women emerge as the preferred candidate for a difficult seat to win, while if the possibility to win it are raised, a man is preferred.


UNED*- University of Almería**   Political Psychology, N 42, 2011, 29-44 ]

Translated by: BW

February 2 2012