Women in Malawi need supportive leadership behavior in breaking the structures that hinder them from reaching top leadership positions in the church and religious institutions. In the African context, women find it hard to reach the top in religious organizations because the barrier is not only the glass ceiling but it is the whole structure, which includes the wall, the roof. The structural hindrance is very strong because it is embedded in the patriarchal culture, which makes it very difficult for women to be accepted as leaders in society. The whole social structure needs to be restructured in order for women to be allowed to lead and be respected as leaders. Change in social structure can only take place when leaders take the lead in influencing congregants in religious communities to start accepting and respecting women leaders and give them the support they need to excel as leaders.
Key words: Glass ceiling, religious communities, Malawian women leaders
In recent years, the number of women in leadership positions has continued to change for the better in some fields, while in other fields not much change has been experienced. According to Christian history, it is clear that most official Church policies excluded women from holding clergy positions. Over the years, policies have changed dramatically within many denominations (Chaves 1997) but the number of women rising to clergy positions remains remarkably low (Konieczny and Chaves 2000). The lack of clear policies to promote women rising to clergy positions and senior leadership positions has worsened the already existing barriers for women to break the glass ceiling in the denominational churches in some parts of the world.
Research has shown that there are systemic barriers such as lack of opportunities and power, lack of mentors and role models for women in organizations, and widespread discrimination, which limit their opportunities to rise to top leadership positions (Morrison and Von Glinow 1990; Goodman, Fields and Blum 2003). There is therefore need for existing leaders in denominational churches and religious institutions to provide supportive leadership behavior to women serving in different leadership positions to break the glass ceiling. By supportive leadership behavior, I mean behavior that gives respect to women and allows them an opportunity to lead; and allows them to rise to the top in denominational and religious institutions.
There is no research that has been carried out on such barriers in the Church and religious institutions in Malawi. In this essay, I employ autoethnography to reflect on my experiences with barriers that stand against women's leadership within the church in Malawi. I explicate two critical incidents to show some of the struggles that women face in Malawi that may resonate with women in other parts of Africa. The incidents that I have shared show that there is a lack of supportive leadership behaviors from current leaders to support women seeking to be part of the top leadership team in religious institutions. I have also used stories of other women leaders who had similar negative experiences to show how the church and religious institutions make it difficult for women to be trained for church leadership. I demonstrate how in some African communities it is not just a glass ceiling but the whole structure (the walls and the roof), which makes it difficult for women to take leadership positions in the church. Empirical research shows that women in different circles face barriers to reach top leadership positions. While there is evidence that in some circles this is changing, not much has been written about the barriers that women face in denominational churches and religious institutions that prepare Church leaders in some parts of Africa.
The glass ceiling is one key barrier that impedes women's career advancement. It serves as an invisible barrier …