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Study Reveals Missing Influence of Women among Nonprofit Leaders

An interview with researchers Dr. Janel Curry and Dr. Amy Reynolds

GFL: You discovered that most evangelical women and men share the egalitarian view that women should lead in the workplace and broader society, but that there are mixed feelings about women leading in the home and church. How do you think these findings impact the organizations you studied?

Amy: First, we sense that people are conflicted about women leading, even as they, in theory, support women leading within their organizations. Christian nonprofits may be seen by some as existing on the boundaries of church life and society, especially as leaders within many of these organizations are expected to provide spiritual leadership. Supporting women leading in an organization, when you expect them to be home watching children, makes it hard for women to thrive in leadership roles—we suspect. It’s also worth noting that while the men and women in our sample expressed similar views on women leading in society, men had more conservative views—than women—on women’s leadership in the home and in the church.

Second, many of the leaders we surveyed wouldn’t have guessed that their peers did think that women should lead in society, so even as males and females may express such a belief, it’s not being clearly communicated. We were surprised to find that many organizations don’t have an explicit policy—in their vision/mission statement, core values, faith statement, etcetera—regarding women and men in leadership.

GFL: Some will hear that women are underrepresented in these organizations and wonder, “So what? Does it matter?” Does it? Why?

Janel: Studies have shown that organizations are actually more successful when they have greater diversity in their leadership. So it matters because, in order to achieve mission, organizations need diversity in their leadership. So this study is about helping evangelical nonprofits better achieve their missions.

GFL: And what would you say is missing from our organizations and ministries when women are not fully represented?

Janel: I would reframe this question to say—what are we missing when we are not drawing on the full range of leadership talent within our community. When we have women in leadership it often also opens up the way for men with a greater range of leadership styles and talents to also move into leadership. So I see it as opening up leadership to the full range of styles and talents that God has gifted us with in order to achieve mission.

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