In January, Women by the Numbers looked at the status of women in the pipeline to senior
management in government and corporate sectors. Last month, Women by the Numbers looked at
women in the pipeline to leadership within our denomination’s local churches and Annual Conferences.
It provided some intentional measures both men and women could take to remove barriers experienced
by women interested in more senior leadership positions. In the conclusion to this “Beyond the StainedGlass
Ceiling” series, Women by the Numbers looks at the status and role of women within the United
Methodist denomination’s agencies and offers concrete examples that agencies are intentionally taking
to ensure that women are equipped to lead and go beyond the stained-glass ceiling.
To review, of 12 million United Methodist church members, 54% are women, with females leading from
the pulpit only 22% of the time. Church members see a woman leading their districts 27% of the time,
and a female bishop leading their annual conference 27% of the time. Many of the 50 largest churches
have women on their pastoral staff, but only one lists a woman as a senior pastor. Changing the culture
of the local church will take time and intentional actions by both men and women. What is the status of
women in the pipeline to senior leadership within our general agencies?
Among the leadership of United Methodist general agencies, 5 of the 12 General Secretaries are
women: Susan Henry-Crowe of the General Board of Church and Society, Kim Cape of the General Board
of Higher Education and Ministry, Barbara Boigegrain from the General Board of Pension and Health,
Erin Hawkins with the General Commission on Religion and Race, and Dawn Wiggins Hare of the General
Commission on the Status and Role of Women. These women represent 42% of the leadership in
general agencies. (Women by the Numbers will be looking at staffing of general agencies in a future
article.) Are the general agencies assisting women to move through the pipeline to senior level
leadership? Are the general agencies making intentional actions to hire, retain, and promote women? If
so, how? And if not, what are some intentional actions they might take to ensure the women can lead
beyond the stained-glass ceiling?
The practices at the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) serve as examples
of intentional actions taken to ensure women are equally represented in the recruitment and hiring
process of the agency. For example, Elaine Moy, Assistant General Secretary, reports that, when there is
an open position, the agency’s leaders make sure that the pool of candidates consists of both men and
women before making the selection of who to invite for an interview. In addition, they broaden their
search by not relying solely on word of mouth or applicants they may know. This practice allows for a
more diverse applicant pool of candidates with views different from current staff and leadership.
The Leadership Academy at the General Board of Global Ministries is one example of an intentional
program aimed to develop staff for further leadership. Staff members may apply to participate in the
Leadership Academy. Agency leadership selects 24 male and female staff members who show immense
leadership potential to participate in the 2-3 day training event. In the Leadership Academy,
participants identify their leadership styles and values, develop active listening and communication
skills, and define what leadership means to them. After the initial intensive course, each participant is
assigned a mentor from the cabinet with whom they meet monthly for individual coaching and
mentorship. Alumni of the Leadership Academy have gone on to take senior positions on staff at the
General Board of Global Ministries and with other organizations. These leaders have clearly exhibited
the skills they needed to lead at a higher level in the pipeline.
One of the key issues to why senior leadership positions are less likely to be held by women than men is
the retention rate. Female employees often do not stay within an agency long enough for them to move
through the pipeline. In the McKinsey & Company research study “Unlocking the full potential of women
at work,” researchers looked at the status of women being developed, retained, and advanced within 60
leading companies in corporate America. Research showed that while many women were hired, rarely
did they stay long enough to move through the pipeline to the “C-suite” of leadership with the
organization. The researchers identified four barriers to the advancement of women: “structural
obstacles, lifestyle choices, institutional mind-sets, and individual mind-sets.” Women who remained in
the pipeline stayed because they were passionate about their work and saw it as a way to make a
difference. Some who left cited the lifestyle choice women sometimes face of being both the
breadwinner and the sole caregiver of their family. Corporations are now taking proactive steps to
address these obstacles, and our United Methodist general agencies seem to be following suit.
For example, the General Board of Global Ministries recently implemented a “bring your baby to work”
policy. Under this policy, new mothers could return to the office setting earlier than they might do
otherwise because they are permitted to bring their infants to work. The policy required that the infant
not disrupt the working environment for other staff members. Having a baby in the office actually
increases morale all around and allows women to come back from maternity leave sooner. Many
parents can return to work, fully focused, because they are not separated from and worried about their
infant. Since the policy was implemented, at least one executive level staff person has partaken of her
rights under the policy, allowing her to return to the office and continue the development of a major
program initiative of the agency almost seamlessly from where she left off before the birth of her child.
In addition, an executive at the General Board of Discipleship does not allow her work ethic to outweigh
her commitment to her family, and is honest about this with her superiors. She told her new boss, “I will
give 150 percent at work, but that my family is my number one priority” and further explained that
“there was not one example for me to follow around the leadership table—no one had children living at
home.” She was grateful when her superior replied, “you bring diversity to the table that we don’t have.
We need to hear the voice of mothers with young children.” This example suggests that leadership of
our agencies are both acknowledging and addressing the unique needs of women in both developing
them as leaders, and providing them with the flexibility needed for those who want or need to be
caregivers as well as breadwinners.
A female General Secretary of another agency, who has grown children, when asked why she accepted
her position in leadership and why she stays, mentioned the need for the ability “to look towards the
future with excitement and hope.” Further she says, “Being a leader means continuing to listen deeply
and look towards the future while remembering the past. My work at the agency has been rich and
continues to help grow my passion for the neighbor both across the street and around the world.”
Women stay in leadership of the United Methodist general agencies for a variety of reasons. Those in
leadership and those with potential to lead stay in the pipeline of our agencies, not only because of the
intentional approaches being taken by the agencies to retain and train women, but because they see
their work as an important continuation of the history of our denomination, and as a personal
vocational calling. As long as they are learning and growing, and being supported in their development
as leaders through agency initiatives, they remain passionate and dedicated to the work and to the
future of our denomination.
In conclusion, it seems our agencies are taking creative approaches in their initiatives for placing and
retaining women in the pipeline to senior leadership positions. This is only the beginning of our work to
include both men and women in the senior leadership. Creative intentionality is the key to initiating and
sustaining a cultural shift in our denomination towards an environment accepting and celebratory of
women in leadership. Both men and women need to be intentional to address gender, no matter where
we are in the connectional system of the UMC.
For the McKinsey and Company study:
To read more about the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women and its leadership:
To read more about the General Board of Discipleship and its leadership:
To read more about the General Board of Global Ministries and its leadership: www.umcmission.org
Are their women in leadership in your local church, conference, or at a board or agency that you look up
to as a woman lower in the pipeline?
Why do you stay in the pipeline? What could your church, conference, and/or agency do to ensure you
stay in the pipeline, committed to the work and mission of the denomination?
What are examples of intentional actions taken by entities within our denomination connection that
help retain women in the pipeline to senior management?
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