February 2, 2018

When prejudice moves into the second generation, it becomes more subtle and in many ways more powerful.  Stephanie Dyrness Lobdell is a Nazarene pastor who writes a thoughtful and important article revealing this to us.

“In generations past, it was easy to identify explicit structures and policies that hindered women from obtaining and succeeding in pastoral roles, but in many cases, those overt barriers have been eliminated. Even so, the number of female pastors hasn’t shifted much. According to Hartford Institute for Religion Research, only 12 percent of congregations in the United States have female lead pastors, and, in evangelical churches, that number drops to 9 percent. If so many barriers have been eliminated, why haven’t the number of women and men in lead pastorates and denominational leadership positions equalized?

Researchers Herminia Ibarra, Robin J. Ely, and Deborah M. Kolb asked the same questions about women in the secular work place, and determined there was undoubtedly something in the water—something that went deeper than the overt barriers of years gone by. They named this experience Second-Generation Gender Bias, concluding that “second-generation bias erects powerful but subtle and often invisible barriers for women that arise from cultural assumptions and organizational structures, practices, and patterns of interaction that inadvertently benefit men while putting women at a disadvantage.”

Good Intentions Are Not Enough

Let’s be clear. We’re not calling out men for evil intent and taking names. There are no torches lit. Women and men both appear to be oblivious to this bias, perhaps aware that something is amiss but with no apparent ability to name it or amend it. Nevertheless, there is something holding women back.

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.”

To read the entire article click here.