Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Women's Work

A recent Washington Post article: 'Fixing the economy? It's women's work.'

And in Marie Claire in July, the 'Big Question' was 'Could women rescue the world?' 'Worldwide recession, global warming, war...would the planet be in such a mess if women were in charge?'

Part of me wants to say, Yes, women would make a better job of running the world and fixing the economy. But two things stop me. One, to say women would make a better job of these things is too essentialist for my liking. I've just written an article which basically maintains what most research argues: that women and men don't lead that differently.

And two, there is a God dimension to running the world and fixing the economy! No matter whether it's men or women in charge, without regard to God's ways I'm not sure either sex is going to make that good a job of it.

Marie Claire - it was a bit of a feminist rant, but I liked one sentence a lot. 'Our world would be more Garden of Eden, less Soho at closing time on the last night on earth.' Sadly, though, given the level of binge drinking by some young women, I'm not sure women's world would be so 'Garden of Eden'. When it came to the way the writer pointed out how female politicans are treated by the media, though (only interested in their clothes, not whether they can do the job), I was with her all the way.

The Washington Post article is somewhat more serious writing. You can read it by clicking here. The gist is that companies with more women in senior management roles make more money. In Fortune 500 companies, having three or women women in senior management positions made it more likely the company would outperform the competition. Reading between the lines, the research is not actually saying that women are better managers, but that gender diversity is important.

They also cite research which sees a connection between hormonal differences and leadership styles - men are more prone to competition and risk-taking, and women to collaboration and long-term results.

I do find this a little confusing, because another piece of serious research on women leaders suggests they are better than men at taking risks (of the right sort). And as men and women we are much more than the sum of our hormones!

The article also mentions something called the 'diversity prediction theorem', which says that a diverse group will solve a complicated business problem better than a homogeneous group. I suspect most people would think that was obvious!

But while not everyone has got the message, perhaps it is still worth saying. By this token, the Anglican Church would benefit from having women in the House of Bishops, and male-dominated leadership teams and committees might benefit from considering how the voices of women could contribute.

For Christians, it's not about making more money, it's much more important than that. The Church is about spiritual life and death. We can't afford not to use all the gifts God gives.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Women in the City

A woman serving in a tough parish has returned from holiday to more broken windows in her church. Not long ago her car was broken into.

Frustrations she could do without, on top of all the demands of leading a church.

I've been reflecting on her situation, and the fact that in some tough areas most of the vicars are women. It's one of the emerging patterns that the Dean of Leicester, Viv Faull, noted in a lecture in 2006. But why should this be?

Recently, I found someone else who was asking the same questions. Juliet Kilpin, a Baptist minister, asks: 'Why are there proportionately more female ministers in the inner city than male ministers?' Click here to read the article, on the Baptist 'Mainstream' site. So this is clearly an issue for Baptists as well as for Anglicans.

Kilpin gives 4 options:

  • women have more guts than men

  • women are less worried about money than men

  • inner city churches are more liberal

  • inner city churches are more desperate

I wonder which one you would go for? Kilpin's paper is definitely worth reading, though from my own experience I would want to add 'outer estate' to 'inner city': many of the challenges are similar.

Ministry is about service, but it does sometimes seem puzzling to me that some tough parishes can be hard to fill, whereas clergy flock to apply to those in leafy suburbia.

In fact I guess this is the flip side of that other big question, why there are so few women larger churches? One answer might be that numbers of them, whether out of choice or necessity, are following a diffent path.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Religious leaders: end discrimination!

A friend recently sent me a link to a fascinating article about former US President, Jimmy Carter. Click here to read it.

The gist of the article is that Carter, a Baptist deacon and Bible teacher, has severed his connection with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Who cares? one might ask.

But what Carter goes on to say is that it's not just about what women can or can't do in church that has made him question his allegiance. It's the fact that once one has said that women are 'somehow inferior to men', all kinds of other things follow.

He moves on to explore briefly the implications of holding women inferior to men in both Islamic and Christian traditions, and draws attention to a statement issued by the Elders, a global group of eminent leaders, that 'the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.'

He goes on: 'we are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share. '

I look forward to seeing what happens. I've not noticed much media attention - have you?