When I was 33, I found myself at a crossroads. I had spent the previous 10 years working hard to build my career. I’d put in the time to go from a customer service representative, to supervisor, to manager, and eventually to global call center director at my company. I led teams, sat around strategy tables, and helped build a new service line within our business.
In 2002, after a successful career in business, I made the decision to leave and accept a ministry position at my church. My mother, who was in her late 60s at the time, shared the news with a friend who responded, “She’s leaving her job to be a church secretary?”
I was female, so she assumed that would be my role.
The good news is times have changed a lot since then. Many more women are leading in both the marketplace and in ministry these days. As The Unstuck Group works with churches across the country, we are seeing more and more women sitting on senior leadership teams and leading key, strategic ministry areas. In doing so, these churches are leaning in to the full expression of the gifts and talents God has given their entire church body.
How is your church doing? Do you have a culture that includes and raises up the women on your staff to lead, or is your culture somewhat exclusive of women?
Here are three questions that might help you answer that question:
1) Do you believe women can and should lead at all levels within the church?
There are many different views within the Church on the role women in leadership. If you haven’t read Tony’s first article in this series, I encourage you to read that now. What we do know is that God has called women throughout the Bible to lead.
In February, Relevant Magazine wrote,
“Stories of strong women leaders reel across the pages of the Bible. Miriam led the Israelites in powerful worship of their Creator, protector and provider. Rahab put her neck on the line to rescue the spies, knowing it would benefit God’s people and save her family. Abigail, Ruth, Esther, Huldah, Naomi, the Proverbs 31 woman—all made judgment calls and acted to benefit God’s purposes.
New Testament passages endorse the ministry, teaching and leadership of Lydia, Dorcas, Priscilla, Tryphena, Euodia, Syntyche, Junia (among others). God endowed biblical women with unique gifts for handling what came their way as they built God’s Realm. Biblical womanhood reveals a broader spectrum than we often see in churches.”
You can read the full article at RelevantMagazine.com.
What does your church believe? Does it reflect the model given to us throughout Scripture?
2) Do you judge your women leaders through a different lens?
Research in the marketplace calls out the fact that most of us – both men and women – have an unconscious bias when interacting with women. They simply call it a “gender” or “likeability” bias. It means that both men and women view comparable leadership traits differently between men and women.
If a man is assertive, he is seen as courageous or confident. If a woman is assertive, she’s seen as aggressive or bossy. That’s the bias. Same behavior – different reactions to it.
Joseph Grenny, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Crucial Conversations says,
“Women are burdened with the assumptions that they will conform to cultural stereotypes that typecast women as caring and nurturing. Speaking forcefully violates these cultural norms, and women are judged more harshly than men for the same degree of assertiveness.”
“…both women and men should be aware this bias is happening—often unconsciously—and they should do everything in their power to stop it.”
Do you see this bias playing out in your culture?
3) What percent of your high-level leaders are women?
This question is just simple math. If you were to count the number of men and women in leadership roles, how does it break down? It’s easy to be above average in this area. Current research shows that in the marketplace women represent 17-27% of the leaders. In evangelical circles, it’s about 20%.
If you want to take the math a step further, how do your pay levels compare? Do the men and women on your staff get paid the same for the same work? Again, in the marketplace, women are sitting at a rate of .77 for every dollar the male counterparts earn.
How are you doing?
If you want to get better in this area, here are a few simple actions you can take to create a more inclusive culture of women at your church:
Track your metrics.
Take your results from Question 3 above and begin to measure how you’re doing. We all know it’s hard to change what we don’t measure, and we all know what gets measured matters. Once you know where you are, set goals to improve the gender balance on your teams. Having a target to shoot for will keep the discussion open and help you keep an eye out for effective women leaders that you want to raise up.
Look for ways to include women leaders.
Going to lunch will a male colleague for lunch? Ask one of your female counterparts to join you. Having a strategic meeting to discuss some important area of ministry? Invite a few women to get around the table with your team. Start a formal mentoring program for the women on your team, leveraging both the male and female leaders on your team to do the mentoring.
Look for opportunities to address gender bias.
If you find yourself thinking a woman leader is acting too aggressive, pause and ask yourself, “Aggressive compared to whom?” If the same behavior/comment would have been received well coming from a male leader, make note of the bias. If you’re brave, you could even call it out with your team as a teachable moment.
“Anna, when you said that I found myself critical of your comment. But, if I’m honest, if Joe would’ve said the same thing, I might not have even noticed. Let’s talk about that team. Did anyone else feel that way?”
Bringing awareness when bias is present helps us all get better at getting rid of it.
While there are inherent differences between men and women, we are also alike, created in God’s image.
“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
And, we are all one in Jesus Christ.
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
As said at the top of this post, by reducing the barriers for the gifted women leaders, our churches will be able to fully utilize the gifts and talents God has given our entire church body.