I came across an article today that sounded very encouraging. Female pastors are on the rise, I skimmed to the section where this was mentioned just to be sure that I had not read wrongly. I hadn’t. There are more females as pastors than ever before today. This means that more women are stepping into leadership.
There is always a but, and I should have been prepared for it. The “but” centred around a few things
1)Women must work harder than men and do twice as well to be thought of as competent.
2) Research consistently finds that women must work harder to get hired, promoted or named to leadership positions.
3)Women experience more criticism of their leadership.
4)Women are consistently rated as less competent than male leaders.
5)Women face the usual bind that if they are too feminine, they are thought of as too soft, if they show more male-like qualities they are disliked.
6)This is causing more young women to doubt themselves and then avoid applying for leadership positions.
7)The expectations we place on women are false and unattainable.
From personal experience apart from this research, I would add;
1)Often in organisations well intentioned people seek to promote one female in order to show that this organisation is in fact friendly towards women in leadership. I find that this almost never works. It creates a lot of pressure on one female to be all things to all people and sets her up for failure. This also happens in relation to women on panels, conferences and other events. The pressure is on the one who is chosen, to perform perfectly.
2)The women that usually are chosen for leadership in an organisation are seen as acceptable according to societal norms. In other words, somehow they have the “correct” mix of what society finds acceptable for a women. Usually this means that the female chosen will not rock the boat, be sexually threatening or be too maternal. In other words there are still restrictions around women being allowed to be themselves in leadership positions. Society punishes those who are outside of the acceptable norms of behaviour and rewards those who play it safe.
When will we see change? Frankly, in some cases I have given up and have simply decided to be who I was created to be. That’s not always easy. Some will find that acceptable and others won’t. I hope that those women who have the talents to be in leadership will also choose to be themselves and that there are wise, supportive people around them who will give them a hand as they express those gifts for the benefit of the organisations they work for.