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Break the glass ceiling, fall off the glass cliff

So you’ve made it to the top in a field normally associated with the other gender. The hard work doesn’t stop there.

A new study finds that once a woman succeeds in a male-dominated field -  or vice versa - they are judged more harshly for any missteps.

The researchers say this may help explain why some women experience a “glass cliff,” where they make it to the top job in a normally male-dominated field but then fall from that position.

Researcher Victoria Brescoll, a psychological scientist at Yale University, and several colleagues asked about 200 people to judge various scenarios involving a male and female police chief and a male and female head of a women’s college.

The researchers found that when the scenario involved the female police chief or the male head of a women’s college making a mistake, the respondents judged them more harshly than when the scenario involved a male police chief or a female head of a women’s college making the same mistake.

They got the same results in a similar test when they asked similar questions about a female head of an aerospace engineering firm and a female chief judge.

The researchers suspect that’s because women in traditionally male-dominated fields such as engineering, or men in traditionally female-dominated fields like nursing and teaching, are under closer scrutiny.

"Any mistakes that they make, even very minor ones, could be magnified and seen as even greater mistakes," Brescoll said in a statement announcing the findings.

The study was published in Psychological Science(registration/payment required).