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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: What can women in church leadership do to offer support and advocacy for their sisters in nonprofit organizational leadership?

Janel: Given the difference in views between the church and society, and women’s roles, often women feel like church is a foreign land—or that they live a split life—they are in leadership in society and then not in church. Anything that can just simply recognize the roles that women are playing outside the church—stated in the church setting—helps to create a safe place within the congregation.

Obviously managing these tensions is a spiritual challenge. Women in the church can be supportive through prayer and mutual spiritual growth.

Finally, sponsorship is an important element. Put women’s names forward and describe what you think they could bring, or recognize their roles. Make them visible by just pointing out what they are doing.

GFL: What role does mentoring play here? If women in leadership help inspire others to join us in these roles, what responsibility do those of us in leadership have?

Janel: We prefer sponsorship over mentorship. Being a sponsor involves affirming someone’s giftedness, encouraging them in this giftedness, and putting their name forward while naming that giftedness. It is about giving them opportunities to grow—removing obstacles.

GFL: What is the most important thing you think the church needs to hear from this study?

Janel: I would emphasize again—organizations need to be explicit about their stands. If they are complementarian then they need to be explicit about this and if they are egalitarian, the same. I encourage men who are egalitarian who attend churches that are not, to be the ones to step up to open up dialogue. This creates space for conversation.

Amy: Churches need to be clear about what opportunities they believe women should have to exercise their leadership gifts. This applies to churches who support women in leadership or restrict such roles to men. Churches who want to support women at all levels may think their stance is clear. But it might not be. Given the differences of opinion and conviction among Christians on gender, churches cannot take for granted that members know where they stand. Past research has shown that even in denominations that affirm the leadership gifts of women without limitation, women are often still very underrepresented in leadership—leading, perhaps, to confusion among some members on how the church really thinks about the roles of women and men.

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