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How “Sticky” is Your Ministry for Women Leaders?


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By Dr. Halee Scott

Ann initially applied as an administrative assistant at a ministry in Tennessee when her husband lost his job in the economic recession of 2008. Upper management quickly saw she had a great mind for business, and she catapulted through the ranks in the organization, eventually becoming the company’s first female vice-president. Under her leadership, her department flourished.

Studies show that gender-balanced leadership teams are better for the bottom line and increase the effectiveness of an organization’s ability to reach institutional goals. This spring at the first annual Women’s Leadership Summit at the Christian Leadership Alliance conference in Anaheim, I asked women leaders how “sticky” they thought their organization was for women leaders.

In other words, I wanted to know how well ministries recruit and retain women leaders. As Ann’s story illustrates, when it comes to being sticky, women leaders report that most ministries seem to be doing a good job.

  • The majority of women leaders (55%) reported that the number of women leaders has decreased or remained stagnant over the last five years.
  • Despite this, half of those surveyed (50%) thought the number of women leaders would increase over the next five years, while only 23% expected the number to remain the same or decrease.
  • When asked how well their organization recruited women leaders, the majority of women thought their organization either did extremely well (20%) or moderately well (32%), while 17% reported their organization did not do well at all.
  • Women thought their organization did an even better job at retaining women leaders, with the majority reporting their organization either did extremely well (32%) or moderately well (30%), while only 5% reported their organization did not do well at all.
  • However, women leaders did not think their organization had a strong talent pool of women leaders from which to draw senior leaders, such as a VP (2.5 out of 5) or C-suite executives (2.3).

These results tell us that while women are optimistic about the “stickiness” of their organization, many ministries need to think strategically about developing a stronger talent pool of women leaders for leadership positions, especially upper leadership positions.

This is consistent with what I discovered when I plotted out the positions of all female CLA members: 36% of women have no leadership position, 13% are first-line managers, 28% are middle managers, 2% are board members, 8% are vice-presidents, 2% are presidents, and 6% are C-suite executives.

This seems to indicate that ministries are “sticky” only to a certain extent. While there appears to be ample opportunities for women at the first and middle levels of management, very few women penetrate the upper levels of leadership. To achieve gender diversity at all levels of leadership, ministries should begin by taking the following steps:

  1. Assess the organizational climate of your ministry. Do women flourish at all levels of leadership? If not, why not? At what level are women leaders scarce?
  2. Put gender diversity at the top of the strategic agenda.
  3. Analyze the potential barriers that women leaders may face and find ways to mitigate them.
  4. Create a robust mentoring and sponsoring network that includes women.

When women leaders thrive, everybody wins.

Over the next four weeks, we’ll explore what women leaders think about the ministries they serve in, specifically regarding the development of women leaders, the most significant barriers for women, and personal leadership development.

I’ll unpack how ministries can better equip women for leadership in their organization.

Be sure to check back next week to find out what women leaders think ministries are doing (and not doing) to further the development of women leaders and women executives on their staff.

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Dr. Halee Scott is an author and independent social researcher who focuses on issues related to leadership and spiritual formation. She teaches seminary courses in spiritual formation, theology, and leadership in seminaries across the country. Her  next book, Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women (Zondervan) releases spring in 2014.

Check out all the posts in this series on Christian women in leadership by Dr. Scott:

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