The Faith-Work Gap for Professional Women

     Katelyn Beaty, of Christianity Today, challenges all of us to a new standard in how we as women think about ourselves, how the church thinks about women (regardless of its stance on women's ordination), and how men think about women professionally and in the church. These are challenges we all need to take more seriously. Many probably think the glass ceiling has been broken, and that while there is room for improvement, the progress that has been made over the years is fine. Unfortunately, this is just the latest iteration of the frog-in-the-kettle mindset.  

     In the article below, Katelyn highlights the significance of us rising to meet a new standard. In an even and non-inflammatory manner,  she draws attention to the profound implications for human dignity, but also for the sake of the church. More and more women are entering the workplace and at the same time the evangelical church often alienates these kinds of choices for women. Unlike past generations, millennials will not tolerate this kind of disconnect and will continue to either leave or stay away from the church that seems to lack relevance. 

     The Collaborative, Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, The Made to Flourish Network, and Becoming Magazine are hosting Katelyn Beaty on Wednesday, April 25 at the Citrus Club for a luncheon. Please come hear Katelyn speak on ambition.    


The Faith-Work Gap for Professional Women

As a millennial Christian, Kathryn Freeman’s experience at work captures both the open doors and stubborn glass ceilings facing many professional women today. The director of public policy at a faith-based nonprofit in Dallas, Texas, Freeman describes herself as “a strong personality, meaning I am not shy about voicing my opinions.” She says her bosses, mostly older men, welcome this strength. Her gifts and ideas are encouraged and expressed in her role advocating on complex issues like criminal justice, gambling, and immigration.

But Freeman also says her singleness comes up a lot at work—and it didn’t at the secular nonprofit where she worked previously. “It comes from the idea that a woman’s highest calling is wife and mother,” Freeman says . “Even as your male coworkers seek to climb the ladder, you, single woman, should be keeping an eye out for a husband, not executive leadership.” She also notes that coworkers have told her to smile during presentations so as not to appear angry. “In more secular settings, I doubt this would be voiced out loud, given how strict most HR departments are about perceived harassment.”

Unique barriers

For all of women’s gains in higher education, politics, and business over the past century, the barriers women face at work are so perennial as to seem rather permanent. In the US, working women make, by varying estimates, 79 to 85 cents compared to every dollar earned by their male counterparts. Women at the top of their game in Hollywood and cable news networks face sexual harassment and threats of demotion should they come forward. Lack of mentors, inflexible leave policies, and negative views of assertiveness are all common barriers for many professional women, across all ages and fields of work.

But evangelical women may face unique barriers owing to their religious communities.

A Barna Group survey published this March found that evangelicals—while generally supportive of working women—were the group least likely to support them compared with all Americans. For example, a majority of Americans (77%) are comfortable with the idea that more women than men could someday occupy the workforce. Yet slightly half of evangelicals, 52 percent, are comfortable with this future scenario. Evangelicals were the group least likely to be comfortable with a female CEO (77% versus 94% of all Americans) and least likely to believe that women face unique barriers in the workplace (32% versus 53%). Further, 73 percent of evangelicals are comfortable with the idea of having a female president, compared with 85 percent of all Americans.

For a movement as complex as evangelicalism, the reasons for these findings are likewise complex. Unlike other surveyors, Barna identifies evangelicals by adherence to nine theological criteria rather than church attendance or survey participants’ self-identification as evangelical. Among Barna’s criteria is “a strong belief that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches.” Many evangelicals believe that Scripture forbids women from having authority over men in the home (Eph. 5:22–24) and the church (1 Tim. 2:11–12). This certainly informs church leadership; according to Barna, evangelicals were the group least likely to be accepting of a female pastor (39%). But Roxanne Stone, editor in chief at Barna, notes that evangelicals’ “view of leadership within the church is expanded into their view of societal leadership more broadly.” So while the Bible doesn’t forbid women from leadership in society—and might actually encourage it, given the examples of Deborah, Esther, and the Proverbs 31 woman—their beliefs about women leaders in the church color their perception of all women leaders.


Thanks to Bram Naus for his photo from Unsplash

Crosland Stuart