Sunday, January 20, 2008

Women and Leadership

I have been preparing for a class that I am teaching with Klyne Snodgrass next week on Women, the Bible, and the Church and I think I have finally found a book on women and leadership that I want to recommend to others. I wish I had found it sooner. I would have added it to the required reading for the class! The book is titled Leading Women: How Church Women Can Avoid Leadership Traps and Negotiate the Gender Maze by Carol E. Becker (Abingdon, 1996).

The book draws on various sociological studies regarding women, leadership, and the church but does so in a way that is very approachable and readable. I am in the midst of the section on leadership traps that women fall into. Don't let the title fool you. It is not simply about the things that women do that cause their leadership to go unrecognized, but also about the many traps that seem to be set up by our culture. Ways in which women, at times, can't win no matter which path they choose. The first chapter is called "Organizational Wives or New Paradigm Leaders?" It highlights the way that women often end up functioning like psuedo-wives in a various professional and ministry situations. Women have often been shaped from an early age to multi-task and to attend to the needs of a group. They tend to be peacemakers and calendar keepers. While this leads to strong administrative gifts, these gifts are often used in a marginal way. Women are seen to attend to detail but lack the ability to think in broader categories. In addition, in family system theory thinking, women often end up attending to the emotional needs of the group. While this is valued as bringing unity to an organization, it is not considered leadership.

I have been in several positions that have had "organizational wife" aspects too them... a minister of Christian Education on a large staff and the dean of students at the seminary. I realize that it is not simply the positions, but also the way that I function within them. And it is something that I need to change. As the "organizational wife" in various organizations, I often bear much of the tension within a community and internalize it to a greater degree than is necessary. I also find that I end up doing more day to day administrative tasks than most of my male colleagues. Partly this is a function of where I am on the administrative ladder in a system. The farther down the less administrative support you receive. In my positions as dean of students I went from stuffing mailboxes to operating with several office staff. I had to learn to let go and be all right with asking for administrative support from another person. When your identity is located in knowing all the details within the family, this can be difficult to let go of. Some of you probably know exactly what I am talking about!

I'll try to post more on various sections of this book in the next few weeks. If anyone has read it and would like to comment or make other suggestions, please let me know!