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There's Something in the Water

How second-generation gender bias makes it difficult for women leaders to thrive

To help us see this clearly, Ibarra, Ely, and Kolb named a few telltale signs of second-generation gender bias. Some examples include:

  • A culture in which stereotypical masculine traits (assertiveness, loud, directive) are presumed to be the “natural” disposition of a leader, thus eliminating many women from consideration. (However, in a tragic twist, women that do exhibit these traits are often deemed “unlikable” and thereby eliminated from consideration as well. Classic double bind.)
  • A culture in which women have limited access to reputable and established sponsors in their field. Research shows time and again that people in positions of power tend to seek out up-and-comers that remind them of themselves, thus eliminating most women.
  • A culture in which job expectations are highly gendered. This would include requiring a person to be available almost 24/7, odd work hours, and major geographical moves for the organization. Because women still carry more than half of the home/child workload, and because they are more likely to have a partner with his own career (unlike their male counterparts), women do not put themselves forward for consideration.

These examples have the unfortunate ring of familiarity for women leading in the church. Many have found themselves caught in the classic double bind situation. They feel pressured to express their leadership in stereotypical male styles, even if it goes against the natural grain of their personality and leadership style, only to find themselves on the outs with congregations or other clergy because their behavior was perceived as “too aggressive” or as making them seem “unlikable and unapproachable.”

I have personally experienced the challenge of finding a personal mentor. The vast majority of leaders with the experience and skill from which I long to learn are more likely to invest their time and attention in young male clergy. The influence of the Billy Graham rule exacerbates this issue.

Many women often find themselves unable to apply for church positions that require moves or are unbending with schedules as they often have husbands with careers that serve as the more significant source of income for the family. Such limitations stifle the range of job opportunities significantly.

Many organizations, including the church, have tried the “add women and stir” solution, hoping that just intentionally hiring more women will eliminate the disparity over time. But, no dice. That book everyone read once, or that conference on equality in the church everyone attended in 2012? Not cutting it either. These small changes fail to address the inhospitable environment in a systematic, comprehensive way. This results in “sick fish,” women who do not thrive in the environment, thus reaffirming falsely-based assumptions that women simply “can’t hack it” in church leadership.

January30, 2018 at 8:00 AM

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