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Thursday, November 01, 2007
50 Ways To Encourage a Woman Leader
I've been seeing way too many comments here and elsewhere about how hard it is to find women who are willing to lead in various emerging church contexts--by speaking up front, writing articles, writing books, or otherwise getting their voice out into the public sphere. I'm particularly disturbed by comments by men along the lines of, "I would love to have more women involved in leading (insert project here), but every women I asked turned me down!"

There's something not right in this picture. I know so many brilliant women involved in the emerging church in various forms--women who have a lot to say, women who have a unique perspective, women who have leadership qualities in spades. I find myself thinking that if these women turn down a chance to speak or write or lead in some other way, then the project must not be worth doing. But then I take a deep breath and try to remember that for all sorts of reasons, women's leadership is not as easy as it should be--in the church and outside of it.

So, let's take to heart Mother Jone's advice: "Don't mourn, organize." Let's create a list of 50 ways to encourage a woman leader. (Notice that I didn't say, "encourage a woman to lead"!) I'll start and please add more ideas in our comments.

1. Include women's voices and perspectives from the beginning. Don't plan the event, outline the book, organize the tour, and THEN try to find a woman or two to add diversity. The entire project might look different if women are involved from the get-go, and it might be more appealing to women leaders.

2. Don't just include one woman--include ten. No one likes to be a token.

3. Ask a woman leader what she would like to write about, speak about, sing about, make art about, and then make room for her to do that. Don't just come to her with an idea about what you'd like her to say.

4. Invite women to tell their story as leaders (to you, or to everyone). If a woman isn't claiming and celebrating her own leadership abilities, listen to her story and notice out loud the ways in which she has already been leading. Thank her.

5. Introduce the women leaders you know to each other. Too often, women leaders are isolated within their own churches or networks. Women do a tremendous job encouraging each other to step up to the plate--if only they know each other.

What else??

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posted by Heather Kirk-Davidoff at 8:19 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 11/01/2007 10:47:00 AM, Blogger Mark Van Steenwyk

    We should encourage leadership at a young age...encouraging young girls. The only way to dismantle the systemic stymieing of female leadership is to begin, systematically and early, to counter-act it.

  • At 11/01/2007 11:21:00 AM, Blogger Robin M.

    7. Ask - what would you need to make this opportunity possible? (Could be financial support, a mentor/elder/assistant, childcare, an introduction to the other leaders, a moment to pray together for discernment, transportation, logistics/supplies, etc.) And be prepared to help her find a way to meet the need.

    8. Remember that when you ask a woman to lead something, "I don't know" can sometimes mean "I'd like to but I'm not sure..." and that women are too often socialized not to say yes too quickly, out of genuine or false humility or fear or whatever. (I think women also need to work on changing this tendency in themselves.)

  • At 11/01/2007 11:23:00 AM, Blogger Makeesha

    Ask women what help they need to become a better leader - be it education, mentoring, experience - and then help in those areas and/or connect them with others who can help.

  • At 11/02/2007 04:04:00 AM, Blogger lisa

    11. Expect, value, appreciate and celebrate that a woman may (or may not) do whatever the leadership task is differently than a man might.

  • At 11/02/2007 07:46:00 AM, Blogger sonja

    I'm particularly disturbed by comments by men along the lines of, "I would love to have more women involved in leading (insert project here), but every women I asked turned me down!"

    I have to say that I find that probably even more disturbing, even as Heather does. In conversations with other women, I hear this over and over again. It raises several questions for me ...

    First, I want to consider the source of the statement. That is who are the women he asked? What stage of life are they in? How were those women asked?

    Second, I think the more important question to ask the women who responded negatively to this unidentified man or men is ... what is keeping you from stepping forward at this time? What obstacles do you see in front of you? I think it might be good to take a second step and ask those questions; to push back a little and perhaps help the women see outside of their circumstances. Don't just throw up your hands and say, "See we tried but there's no one."

    Think creatively within your sphere of influence about who the leaders are. Women are much more accustomed to leading from behind and leading as a group than men, so individuals are not as likely to stand out.

    Make sure that the woman you ask won't be the lone woman in a group of men. That's almost a certain no, for a whole host of very good reasons.

    Make certain that women have a voice from the very beginning of the project (whatever it is) ... just throwing a few in at the end is like putting cheap veneer over a piece of nice furniture. It ruins it. If you mix women's voices in at the beginning you have a beautiful piece of furniture with no veneer.

  • At 11/02/2007 08:22:00 AM, Anonymous agma

    12. Speak out against implicitly or explicitly sexist comments. Don't laugh at sexist jokes (and certainly don't make any yourself!). A blatantly sexist environment is one in which no one should feel comfortable working and is hardly conducive to encouraging women leaders.

  • At 11/02/2007 08:46:00 AM, Blogger Makeesha

    encourage and embrace the different voice that women can bring - don't micromanage, control or expect her to be a certain way - either stereotypically female or male.

  • At 11/02/2007 11:10:00 AM, Blogger Holly

    - Provide positive affirmation. Write a thank you note, call her to say how much you enjoyed her involvement with the project. Ask if there are ways that you can help support her work. Affirm the ways that God is working in our lives.

    As a young woman leader (I'm 25), I often receive questions or quizzical looks from older men, like, "What college do you go to?" "Um, I am not in college." My experience or wisdom is undervalued because I am a youthful looking woman. Please do not judge me by my youthful appearance.

    - I know the church does not always foster healthy masculinity, but please don't blame it on this idea that woman have emasculated the church. Stop reading Wild at Heart and start seeing women as having something to offer to the church.

  • At 11/02/2007 11:57:00 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Brink

    I'll tell you what I would love to see. I would love to see an unconference put on by women, with an all female lineup, that had the confidence to just offer healthy, creative dialog and practices. But unlike Women of Faith or whatever, it was for everyone. I would go to that because it would have such a wonderfully subversive feel to it. There are so many great women's writers who have something to say about the human (not just female) experience.

    In other words, lead. Don't ask permission. Just do it. And you women within the emerging church are just the people to do it.

  • At 11/02/2007 12:33:00 PM, Blogger dsrtrosy

    I've lost track of which number we are on! I'd like to add a couple of items from my experience in paid church leadership:

    -If you authorize a woman to lead, back her decisions in the same manner you back the decisions men make.

    -Tell your daughters they can be anything they want to be--in the church as well as out of it.

    -Forget the old myth that women are a minority.

    -Forget the old myth that there are such things as "minorities." Invite all kinds of people to take leadership roles--old, young, rich, poor, fat, thin, all different colors, tattooed, clean cut, men, women. That takes the pressure off of everyone.

  • At 11/02/2007 03:53:00 PM, Blogger Lainie Petersen

    *Don't expect women to be grateful for an opportunity to lead.

    *Don't expect women leaders to be "nurturing".

    *Expect women leaders to be in control.

    *Expect women leaders to get the job done.

    *Encourage women leaders by providing mentoring.

    *Encourage women leaders by beliving in them.

  • At 11/02/2007 04:31:00 PM, Blogger Amy W

    Invite her to lead and then get out of the way to let her lead- trust that she'll ask for help if she needs it, taht she'll get the job done, and don't undercut her work with side comments to others or say things that start with "well, that was nice but I would have..."

  • At 11/02/2007 05:09:00 PM, Blogger Makeesha

    don't suggest to a woman leader that she's "acting like a man" just because she's being assertive or strong and don't suggest to a woman that she's not acting enough like a man when she's not as assertive or strong. Allow leaders to be who they are and lead how they do.

  • At 11/03/2007 10:43:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    "Ask a woman leader what she would like to write about.... Don't just come to her with an idea about what you'd like her to say."

    As The Ooze's Faith Editor, I have to chime in here with my experiences on this. It's really interesting to see how women respond to my invitation to submit something to The Ooze.

    Some do better if I ask them to write about something that I've heard them talk a lot about, but others seem to feel cornered in by that approach.

    So what I've started to do is to word it something like: "Hey, So-and-so. I'd love to publish something from you on The Ooze."

    If they're really passionate about a certain issue, I'll add something like "Have you written anything about X lately?" or "Could I published the blog post you did on X?"

    (I've found that people tend to say "yes" to my queries a little easier if their first piece is either something they've already written or something that I know they're passionate about.)

    But I generally end my email by telling them that I'd be interested in anything they want to write about.

    And it works pretty well. I now have a small (but growing) list of women who submit to us rather regularly.

    Although I'm still not sure what the best way is to find women who have yet to be published on The Ooze. If any of you have any ideas, let me know!

  • At 11/04/2007 09:52:00 PM, Anonymous Jeannette

    Regarding,"We asked women to speak but they all declined." I wonder too how many were asked is the all: TWO?

    One way to encourage women leaders is to look for leadership qualities in women and do not take the answer, "No" so easily. I say that because that was the key to my discovering more of my calling as a woman leader.

    My Sr. Pastor asked me to preach. I was floored! I absolutely did not think I could do it and I was scared to death so I declined. Praise the Lord he did not take my, "No" so quickly. He told me what he saw in me and that he believed I could do a good job. He talked to me at length about it and then he asked me to pray about it. While praying, I absolutely felt God calling me to trust Him with my fear and do it! So I did....it was amazing! In fact, our congregation gave raving reviews....No one was more amazed than I because God showed up for me. HE IS AWESOME! So women need to be challenged when they say no. Do not take that answer so quickly. Tell them why you think they have something to say and what you see in them. And them tell them they must pray about it before giving a quick "No."

  • At 11/05/2007 11:14:00 AM, Blogger Lydia

    - Make room for a greater diversity of communication and personal relationship styles. And this doesn't apply to only women - I know many men who would benefit from this as well. Not every leader is going to be like John Wayne (or Martha Stewart.)

  • At 11/05/2007 12:40:00 PM, Blogger Makeesha

    excellent point lydia.

    my husband and I are very sensitive to that because I generally don't fit in with "typical" women's stuff and he doesn't fit in "typical" men's stuff. and we're both leaders who don't display typical male or female leadership styles.

  • At 11/05/2007 12:58:00 PM, Blogger Lainie Petersen

    We need to watch how we define "leadership". Many times, I think we confuse "leadership" with "influence" with "celebrity". It may be that a person is well known in certain circles and/or a person may be influential, but is that really leadership? Just because we don't see a lot of famous women in a certain community, or a lot of women who are doing writing/speaking, etc, doesn't mean that they aren't leaders.

    I'd argue that it is easy to dismiss women's leadership because it sometimes doesn't look like what we expect leadership to be. (Of course, if the women were to stop doing whatever it is they are doing, things would go downhill pretty darn fast.)

  • At 11/08/2007 08:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I may be wrong, but I suspect women leadership tends to look a lot like the role of mother. Of course there is a broad spectrum here, but I point this out because in my experience adult men are generally uncomfortable with this role/relationship. And I suspect that many leadership positions women are asked to take give them lots of responsibility, but limited authority to carry out that mission (an example would be secretary). I like a lot of the suggestions posted here. One of the major limitations for me as a woman in stepping into leadership has been the responsibilities I have at home. If someone were to volunteer to help me out with some of my other responsibilities, particularly kid responsibilities, I would feel like I could step into more outside leadership roles. One of the things I've really appreciated about women leaders is the way they connect with people. The connecting has been just as important to me as the program/doing stuff.
    Maria Kirby

  • At 11/09/2007 03:36:00 PM, Anonymous Eric Daryl Meyer

    It almost goes without saying, but... make sacrifices and get out of the way.

    Counteract the history of subjugation until it is only a memory.

    I encouraged my wife to apply to medical school a year before I put in any applications for grad school of my own. Together, we trusted that God would lead us to a place where both of us could be of use and pursue our respective callings, but I made the decision to fit my calling into hers, rather than the other way around. We figured it might just be one small story swimming against the stream, but it is a start.

    Theologies of liberation need people willing to live into them.

  • At 5/16/2012 07:22:00 AM, Blogger Jony Gibson

    It’s true that leaders are born and not made, but the inborn ability has to be groomed inorder to up with refined quality leadership skills whether a man or a woman.

    Emerging Leadership


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