Too Few Women


In this video Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, talks about why such a small percentage of women make it to the top of their professions.  I believe that the lessons she shares are applicable to, and prophetic for the world of congregations.

The pulpit in the large congregation, for better or worse, represents the top of the vocational ladder for clergy leaders.  We can argue that serving a large congregaton shouldn’t automatically be the ultimate vocational target for clergy leaders, but in many ways it is. And I think that we’d all agree that there are too few women leading our largest congregations.

I am regularly asked to speak at gatherings of senior clergy leaders from large congregations. There are still remarkably few women in the room. I’ve also noticed that the women who are present are seldom as vocal as their male counterparts. Sandberg challenges us to sit at the table and keep our hands up, a metaphorical way of referring to a need for stronger female leadership presence.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing that Sandberg talks about are the studies that have been done on the relationship between success and likeability in leadership. There is a strong positive correlation between success and likeability for men. Unfortunately, success and likeability are negatively correlated for women in our culture. This is particularly discouraging for the future of female leaders at the senior clergy level. How is a woman supposed to endear herself as the beloved pastoral leader of a large congregation, and still be considered a successful organizational leader? If we have to choose between projecting a likeable image or a competent image, we lose as candidates for the large church. The effective large church leader must be perceived as both likeable and successful.

Is this a lost cause? What have you learned about projecting an image that is both likeable and successful?

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