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Shattering the Glass Ceiling


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By Dr. Halee Scott

Sammie had worked for the company for ten years before she hit the “glass ceiling”. With her strong commitment to God and her irreproachable work ethic, she’d garnered the respect of the entire company—from the warehouse stockmen straight to the CEO. Sammie started in the call center, fielding calls from donors, but was gradually entrusted with more and more responsibilities until she received a position in middle management—a higher-level position than any woman in the company had ever attained.

When I met Sammie, she was struggling with the decision on whether or not to leave the company. She knew God was calling her to use her leadership gifts, but her progress at the company had stalled and the company refused to invest in her as a leader. Was God calling her to stay and pray the company would change? Or was he calling her to seek an environment where she could grow?

To achieve gender balance at all levels in an organization, an organization has to be willing to invest in all potential leaders, both male and female. Last week, we learned that overall, women leaders believe that the ministries they serve in are effective at recruiting and retaining women. But when asked about how well the organization develops women leaders, we get a more complex picture.

Here’s a rundown of the results:

  • When asked how effective the organization was in developing women leaders, most (61%) thought the organization was “moderate” to “somewhat” effective.
  • The majority (44%) stated that the development of female leaders was not on the strategic agenda, while 36% said it was in the top ten strategic items.
  • The majority (36%) said there were no programs or initiatives for female leaders, 26% said “some leadership programs”, 12% had a program especially for women, and 8% planned to offer a program in the next six months.
  • The five most common efforts for women were: flexible working arrangements (47%), encouragement for senior executives to mentor junior women (26%) programs to encourage female networking (21%), oversight of gender diversity efforts by CEO and executive team (21%), and programs to help reconcile work and family life (17%).
  • 17% reported that no efforts at all were taken to support female leaders.
  • Women reported an “average” talent pool of women for middle manager positions, but a “small” pool of women senior leader roles and C-suite executives.
  • Overall, organizations are doing a “good” (score of 3 of 5) at retaining and recruiting women, but only a fair (2.5 of 5) job of having enough women in the pipeline, offering work/life programs, accelerating development of women with high potential, and helping women develop leadership skills necessary for top leadership.

Since the women I surveyed were attendees of the annual conference and the Women’s Summit (women who are more likely to serve in more supportive environments), it’s possible that these results are slightly positively skewed.

Would we get the same results women from all CLA organizations participated? Probably not.

Even so, the results suggest that when it comes to achieving gender balance at all levels of leadership in the ministry, organizations are beginning to move in the right direction.

Here are five steps to getting even further down the track:

  • Make achieving gender diversity a top ten, if not a top three strategic item and express that intention publicly within the organization.
  • Assess the distribution of genders at all levels of the organization. At what point are women not well represented?
  • Determine which barriers are holding women back.
  • Determine what programs or initiatives would help women flourish within the organization.
  • Create a plan to implement those programs.

Achieving gender balance is good for ministries on several levels.

First, it improves the bottom line. Gender balance is important for to main reasons. It positively impacts the bottom line because studies show that organizations with more women at the top financially outperform those who do not.

Second, it improves the reach of ministry because the donations companies with three or more female directors were 28% higher than those with no women.

Finally, achieving gender balance at all levels ensures that we are stewarding the giftedness entrusted to us on an individual and a corporate level.

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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:

CLA.ProfPicW.flame_ Register for the 2014  CLA National Conference. Be sure to check out the one day events and special forums. This year CLA presents the second annual Christian Women in Leadership Forum. Reserve your spot when you register today! Special savings now through October 31, 2013.

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