Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Women and power

Power is a key issue for leaders.

And a confusing one for women. At a conference of women bishops from around the world and senior women in the Church of England recently, we explored (among other things) the issues of power and authority.

Women have often experienced the abuse of power, so we are sometimes hesitant to exercise power ourselves. On the other hand, women may be able to transform power by using it differently, not as 'power over', but power shared, and used to serve others.

June Osborne, Dean of Salisbury Cathedral, spoke of the power to make decisions - and with a budget of £5m, she has plenty of that; power in the role; and that having 'iconic status' , as one of only two women deans, also gives power.

She noted that the more power we have, the more we need to cherish our own formation, and watch for the temptations that come with power. Power, she argued, is not about who wins or loses, but who writes the agenda. And one issue which women should put on the agenda is the empowerment of women across the world.

Thought-provoking. But like many of the women who spoke, I felt she only just scratched the surface.

I'm currently reading a book called Real Power, by Janet Hagberg, which seems to unravel the puzzle of how one can move from powerless (where the danger is that people manipulate others), to power by achievement, and beyond this to a power which is not ego-driven but motivated by empowering others. Perhaps that is the kind of power which we see in Jesus, and to which he calls his followers. A power which is not abdication, but is purposeful, courageous, humble - and unafraid of death.

Interested? You can

Friday, 22 August 2008

Growing Women Leaders

Nurturing women's leadership in the Church

It's quite exciting, if a little disconcerting, to surf the net looking for info about oneself! Nevertheless that's what I've been doing in relation to the imminent publication of my book. It's already in the online catalogues of Amazon and Eden, as well as BRF and CPAS.

Growing Women Leaders is published by CPAS/BRF on 19 September - 4 weeks today. You can read an extract on the BRF website, using this link. Click here to order a copy from CPAS.

One chapter of the book is about leadership style: do women lead differently? The conclusion is - yes and no! Yes, to the extent that some leadership research suggests that women bring some particular skills to leadership. I've just picked up news of a recent 'forum' for professional women, which says that 'Our research shows that leadership style is different for women as they tend to use innovation, trust and empowerment of others...'

A 4-page, very readable piece of research on women's leadership along these lines which is worth downloading is The DNA of Women Leaders, a research study by Aurora and Caliper. While the study was of business women, the conclusions make interesting reading for those also interested in leadership in the Church. It suggests some distinctive leadership qualities of women - being more persuasive, risk-taking, inclusive and team-oriented than men.

But this does not necessarily mean that women do lead differently from men, and other studies have shown that differences between women are more significant than between women and men. Hence my 'yes and no' answer!

Why not ask this question about yourself and the women leaders you know: do you and they have a leadership style which is distinctive to women, or is it all about personality?

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

An epoch of matriarchy?

How will feminisation change the Church?

The headline of an article in the Church Times last Friday (15 August) caught my eye. Hugh Rayment-Pickard writes that 'the Church needs to think urgently about its increasing domination by women.'

'Increasing domination'? Snce when did 25% of priests, a sprinkling of archdeacons and no bishops constitute domination? Especially when it's been the other way around for quite a while.

I was slightly puzzled by the fact that the writer appears to support women priests and bishops. In which case, a slightly less scaremongering title might have helped his cause.

He rightly points out that the dominance of women as members of congregations has been true for many decades (probably through the entire history of the church, in fact). What has changed, of course, has been the leadership. But why is it always women's fault? No, it's not ideal, but don't make it women's problem.

I am looking forward to some solutions from men other than 'Blokes and Bhajis', The Bloke's Bible, and banning certain kinds of hymns and songs. I have long believed that many features of church life have alienated many women as well as some men, so don't let's start perpetuating unhelpful stereotypes about men and women. Some men and women enjoy the same kinds of activities, so we need not send them all in different directions, or simply replace women's groups with focus on sport and DIY.

If women have always been better at evangelising other women, perhaps the men who are not so good at it already need to take a leaf out of our book and try a different tack: talking to each other? Or even talking to women? Together perhaps we can find some solutions.

But I am still frustrated that so much of the joy of seeing women become equal participants in decision-making and leadership in the church is being turned into a crisis about the lack of men.

Can we not rejoice that we are finally regaining what was lost in the early years of the church, a partnership of men and women? And then maybe men will allow women to help find solutions to the lack of men.

Talk about 'feminisation' if you must - but please stop blaming women!

For an article from the Sophia Network which touches on this issue, click here.