The Perception Obstacle for Women Pursuing Leadership in Evangelical Workplaces

New research points to challenges female leaders face.

Women who pursue leadership face a conundrum: people's perceptions of an ideal leader do not always match their perceptions of an ideal woman. The theory has been well documented in secular business sectors, but little research exists on how perceptions impact the success of women leaders within evangelical nonprofit organizations. This incongruity formed the germ of a recent doctoral study conducted by Halee Gray Scott at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Using a representative sample from 21 evangelical non-profit organizations (including Christianity Today), Scott compared employees' views of  a successful leader  to women in general, men in general, female leaders, and male leaders in order to determine whether or not these views pose an obstacle for women leaders. Her.meneutics contributor Karen Swallow Prior spoke with Scott about why the study's findings offer implications for women in all spheres of influence, especially in evangelical sectors.

What is missing from research on Christian women leaders?

There are books that fall into the theological debate camp, anecdotal books about a specific woman's experiences as a Christian leader, and books that cover biblical women leaders, but there was no comprehensive literature that targets the women serving in leadership positions in our churches and in Christian parachurch organizations today. So women everywhere—from my students to female vice-presidents to female pastors—are wondering where the maps are. The younger women are wondering if it is possible to be a woman leader; the women leading are wondering how to navigate the tough terrain. I wanted to start drawing a map.

Why are perceptions so important?

Most of the research that has been done ...

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