Monday, 11 June 2012

Confidence 101

I’m reading a great, if rather ominous sounding, book at the moment called ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership.’ No, it’s not some hideous diatribe against women leading - in fact it’s quite the opposite. A no holds barred account of the issues common to women taking on leadership roles in male dominated environments (so basically, everywhere in middle/upper management!)
A pretty scary cover!!!
The author of the book, Kate Coleman, is clearly an exceptional woman. Not only did she have to tackle sexism as she went forward as a church leader but also racism as she is a black. No wonder she has developed such an excellent understanding of the obstacles and challenges for women leaders. The book proposes that the issues men and women face when taking on leadership roles are different. Whether this is to do with genetics (I’d argue largely no to this…) or the social expectations that shape girls and young women the book argues that there are certain self-defeating tendencies in women that can sabotage our leadership or our chances of ending up in senior roles.
Unsurprisingly, the book covers seven areas that the author has found particularly affect women. It’s quite sobering reading. A lot of the areas are to do with self-esteem, or rather lack of it. I suppose it’s not a great shock, given that women have been treated as second class for the majority of history, that we should still have a few hang ups about ourselves. And of course there are still a lot of social pressures on women to behave in certain ways and the leadership theories and manuals have historically been written mostly by men and so tailored towards the needs and issues of men in leadership.
From a Christian perspective the book raises some interesting points. The most powerful of these for me has been appealing to Genesis 1 and the account of Adam being alone as ‘not good’. The image of God was only complete in humanity when both male and female were created and worked together to ‘rule over’ (they were commanded to rule, rather than he) and care for the earth. Where one half is missing the image of God is incomplete.
There is also a raft of statistics about how women at senior levels improves the performance of companies and even that recent studies in the Church of England have shown that churches most likely to grow are run by young, female Vicars. When we were looking for our new Vicar it was a constant battle to pull people away from the male vicar, gaggle of kids, Volvo and a Labrador picture.  Ironically this is what we got, minus the Labrador, and he is brilliant - there is nothing wrong with any of those things - but there is another picture. And it can be a darn good one if we take these studies seriously.
When I was on placement recently I worked with a brilliant church warden who told me he had no problem with me being female and leading a church but he did have reservations about me being young. By the end of my placement he sent me a letter with his heartfelt hopes that I would be successful in getting into training for ministry and even said ‘I want you to be my Vicar!’ Perceptions can change but we need to stand up and stand tough to do it. This book is an excellent tool for doing that.

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