Friday, 5 September 2008

The concrete ceiling?

I wonder what you made of yesterday's report from the Equality Commission?

'The number of women in Britain's most powerful jobs is falling after decades of progress as they hit a "concrete ceiling" of discrimination', the equality watchdog warns today.

The report goes on to note that there are now fewer female MPs, police chiefs and senior judges than there were a year ago.

I have several thoughts. Further down the report is the sentence: 'although women are becoming better educated and keen to forge careers, too many people still believe that their place is in the home and that men should hold the leadership positions.' The writer of the report, Nicola Brewer, claims that radical change is needed to address the issues.

So what's new? Did we expect a straight line of progress? In the book Through the Labyrinth, which I reviewed on the CPAS website in April this year, the authors make some interesting and relevant points. First that there's no longer a 'ceiling' because women have broken through it (there are some women in these senior positions) - hence it's more like a labyrinth for women than a ceiling - and that 'social change does not proceed easily or without struggle and conflict' (p 198).

As women gain greater equality, it's inevitable that some people react against this, and there is a backlash. Women need to expect this pattern. The question is, how do we interpret the pause? Some might say, it just goes to prove that all this equality stuff is a big mistake. Or, we can say, this is just what we should expect to happen.

I'm with the latter! After leadership has been shaped by men, and leadership positions filled mainly by men for thousands of years, how could this not be difficult to shift? At the same time, passage of time itself will not bring change; there has to be activity by women and by those who hold the power.

What's my take on this as a Christian? I believe that while the church is slower to embrace women as leaders, our basis for this is much stronger than 'justice' or 'human rights'. The Bible teaches that women and men were created equal, and that leadership positions, whether inside or outside the church, should be filled on the basis of giftedness (plus talent, experience, etc), not gender.

I look forward to hearing about the future work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in this area; and to hearing the voice of the church speaking out in the market place. Who's going to speak God's truth into this area?

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