Thursday, October 17, 2013

Women in Leadership

Yesterday we had a get-together of women ministers from the Cape of Good Hope district. It was a casual after-another-meeting affair and apparently most people forgot that it was planned. I don't mind supporting other women in ministry, but generally it is not a priority for me and I suspect that any ambitions that I may have are thwarted by my lack of ability and not by my gender. Not that I am feeling particularly thwarted!

The thing is that we talk about the need to get more women in leadership and vaguely (or passionately, depending on personality) express concern, but never seem to get to grips with why there are not more women in leadership. Specifically we were mentioning women ministers in church structures.

For me, it is no mystery. I have no desire to be part of this leadership and perhaps others feel the same way. Graeme Codrington writes this in an article called Why women are a problem for business:

One of the main reasons that women are not making it into senior leadership positions is because they don't want to. It's not a capability issue; it's a choice. And the reason they're choosing not to is because they don't want to play a man's game in a man's world.

And that is simply it. I can't engage in high-level church leadership easily because I don't have a sufficiently aggressive or ambitious personality. I achieve things in other ways. I don't enjoy scrambling to make myself heard or to be taken seriously. I don't know if that is because I am a woman or not and so perhaps we are not even beginning to ask the right questions. Do we perhaps just need people in leadership to have different qualities?

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes the following in a Harvard Business Review blog called Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

In my view, the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence. That is, because we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women. [hyperlinks removed]

I don't think we are going to get more women into leadership by continuing to do things in the same old way and expecting women to fit in. We need new ways that somehow combine the strengths of men and women - and also the strengths of more introverted personalities and more extroverted personalities.

Let's stop asking how to get women involved, but rather ask how  we can change the processes so that women are able to participate without compromising their natural personalities.


Macrina Walker said...

I can really relate to this Jenny, although not so much in terms of the question of women in Church leadership - which is a multi-faceted complex topic that I'll bracket for the time being! I'm also not sure sure that it is ultimately a gender issue. I've certainly had the experience of hesitating to open my mouth and then realising that those who were doing so with confidence didn't actually have much worthwhile to say. But I've also resented it when I've been told that, as a woman, I should be more forceful, just because, well, women need to be more forceful!

Although there is a gender aspect to it, I suspect that it is also about culture and in particular our current (and largely American influence, I think) culture of self-promotion... and I'm not at all sure that that can be reconciled to the Gospel. I read this a couple of days ago and it seemed relevant. And it's also an issue that I've been hearing others (mainly males and Americans as it happens) discussing on Facebook.

But ultimately, though, I am reminded of the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch that “a bishop is never so much a bishop as when he keeps silent.” This doesn't always work out in practice, but I think that, at least in the ideal, in the Orthodox tradition, the bishop is not supposed to draw attention to his own personality or ideas, but rather to guard the deposit of the faith. And so, ideally, those who are chosen as bishops are those who have conquered their own passions, including the need for acclaim. As I say, it doesn't always work in practice, but sometimes it does, and then I am reminded of St Ignatius' words.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Macrina
I agree with you absolutely that it is not really a gender issue. It does seem to be the way to make people listen though - because including women in leadership is quite politically correct these days (certainly in our church circle).
Your last paragraph makes me aware of how unChristian we really are in our leadership and decision-making paradigms. I know that we can't judge another person's faith, but I wonder how many members of our large Methodist meetings are truly followers of the way of Jesus.
If we were all on the same page as St Ignatius, things could be a whole bunch better!