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Breaking through the stained-glass ceiling

Breaking through the stained-glass ceiling

It has been noted that there are fewer female bishops in the Episcopal Church than there were ten years ago and that despite increasing numbers of female priests, women are not holding a proportionate number of leadership roles in the church.  Last October we published a piece by Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves (El Camino Real) that pointed out some of these challenges.

“For many years now the General Convention has resolved again and again to become more inclusive and diverse.  More racial diversity. More gender diversity. More socio-economic diversity. We have named this value and identity for years; we have rejoiced and said it is good. But we have not achieved the vision. We The Episcopal Church as a whole are still very white, educated beyond the average American, and enjoying more financial and employment stability than most in our country. Our clergy leadership remains predominately white and male, especially at the executive level of our institutional life. We are burdened with a stubborn income disparity between male and female clergy. (See 2014 Compensation Report”

Now a new study from Harvard Business Review has come out suggesting that the status quo bias works against female and minority candidates in systems dominated by white males (like the executive leadershiHBR Chartp of TEC).

In the study, the researchers write”

“Why does being the only woman in a pool of finalists matter? For one thing, it highlights how different she is from the norm. And deviating from the norm can be risky for decision makers, as people tend to ostracize people who are different from the group. For women and minorities, having your differences made salient can also lead to inferences of incompetence.

Managers need to know that working to get one woman or minority considered for a position might be futile, because the odds are likely slim if they are the lone woman or nonwhite candidate. But if managers can change the status quo of the finalist pool by including two women, then the women have a fighting chance.”

These findings should suggest that if the Episcopal Church really wants a diverse leadership, then we will need to consciously and explicitly change our search processes to make that so.


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John Rabb

I am serving as interim in the largest church in the Diocese of Maryland, which had a woman rector who retired. The three largest churches in the diocese have had or have a woman as rector and one of the bishops is a woman. My experience as a bishop, now retired, but continuing in active ministry is that churches still see “the male priest with a family as a very good thing.” Sadly what really counts in all three orders is the ability to preach, teach and pastor; here women excel equally. Our anxiety over growth causes us, so sadly, fall back into stereotypes. This is complicated for larger churches and the episcopate by the misconception that this work is “management,” which, again, favors male stereotypes. The church needs the effective leaders based on gifts and abilities and not on gender, race or ethnicity.

Ann Fontaine

I think we would have to look at the stats and not anecdotal. But a bishop election is so dependent on how a bishop candidate “shows” in the dog and pony plus the the factor of the previous bishop and how like (if the person was one people liked) or not like (if people are unhappy). Probably need someone like Nate Silver to sort out all the factors.

Anjel Scarborough

Not sure I agree with you Ann Fontaine in light of the recent election in Pennsylvania. Daniel Gutierrez will be a wonderful bishop, but Martha Macgill being the only woman made her stand out as different all the more.

We are conditioned to pick out what doesn’t match the norm – even kids watching Sesame Street know how to sing “one of these things is not like the other” to identify what “doesn’t belong.” When we have unbalanced slates of candidates, women and minorities often end up “tokens” while the call still upholds the gender and ethnicity of the current power structure.

Tobias Haller

There are always exceptions to every purported rule, and one should not make too much of them, but +KJS was the only woman on the slate for PB in 2006…

I’m not sure academia maps that well to ecclesia when it comes to deployment.

Nicole Taggart

What about diversity with socio-economic class? Our schools and clergy do not represent any type of diversity in this manner. This lack of diversity creates problems from parish level up.

Jay Croft

You are right, Nicole. I see that bishops, especially as they become older, tend to choose second-career ordination candidates who have already made their financial pile. A young person of modest means who struggled to pay for college? Very small chances.

Soon after I was ordained in 1969, the new bishop of my diocese, a man of great wealth, announced that he wouldn’t even talk with an aspirant until that person had been out of college for at least 18 months.

I went through college on Vocational Rehabilitation funding and continued through seminary that way, as the M.Div. is (or was) the entry level degree. If I had taken a break for 18 months, my VR case would have been closed. There was no way for my family to finance this education without VR.

Of course, over the years I have paid back much, much more in taxes than VR spent on me so long ago.

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