Sex Roles

, Volume 78, Issue 5–6, pp 409–422 | Cite as

Female Leadership and Role Congruity within the Clergy: Communal Leaders Experience No Gender Differences Yet Agentic Women Continue to Suffer Backlash

  • Todd W. Ferguson
Original Article


Role congruity theory predicts that female leaders will experience prejudice because the role of leader aligns more closely with the stereotypic male gender role than it does with the stereotypic female role. Yet the theory also states that the context of leadership matters. Female leaders in communal contexts often do not experience prejudice because the communal role is congruent to the female role. The purpose of my study is to examine female leadership within the context of the religious congregation and the profession of the clergy. Using multilevel models to analyze Wave 2 of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey (50,595 congregants in 255 congregations), I tested two competing hypotheses about whether the role of clergyperson is congruous or incongruous for women based on congregants’ perceptions of their leaders. I also hypothesized that female clergy using a more masculine leadership style would experience more prejudice. Results offer support for the hypothesis that female clergy experience role congruity, yet, I also found that they experience prejudice if they use a more masculine leadership style. These findings have implications that suggest that, even though there are behavioral restrictions for women, the profession of clergy is an amenable profession for female leaders.


Leadership Leadership styles Sex roles Sex role attitudes Clergy Religious organizations 



The author would like to thank Kevin D. Dougherty, Paul Froese, Jerry Z. Park, Lindsay R. Wilkinson, and Angela Reed for their helpful comments.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author has complied with all ethical standards, and there are no conflicts of interest.


This research used secondary data and received no funding.

The data from the United States Congregational Life Survey were downloaded from the Association of Religion Data Archives at


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social Work, Sociology, and Criminal JusticeUniversity of Mary Hardin-BaylorBeltonUSA

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