Why We Need Women (and Others) in Leadership

This is the second of a series of reflections I’m writing based on Ann Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic Monthly story Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  Read The Problem with Having It All

Back in my 20s, because I had 3 diversity points (female, Asian, young), I was invited to sit on a couple national Christian ministry advisory boards. Affirmative action brought me to the table—I was severely under-qualified compared to fellow board members—but I was glad to be there.  After all, if you want a young, female, Asian perspective, you’ve got to involve young, female, Asians.  Kudos to these ministries for taking seriously God’s care and concern for all peoples and all nations!

Because I was the youngest and least accomplished person on both boards, and because I cherished the free plane ticket to Chicago so I could meet with my graduate school advisor, I was the most constant member over the years—the perk of being single, unknown and rarely in demand.  So as time went on, I often became either the only woman or only person of color in the room.

I soon noticed that when the room was full of ethnic minorities, ethnic minority issues got attention. Likewise, when there were many women, issues around gender and justice got more space.

But when those representatives disappeared, so did those conversations.  I valiantly tried to continue the dialogue from previous meetings but was usually unsuccessful.  Not because people didn’t care, but because one lone (and young) voice crying out in the wilderness just doesn’t garner much attention.

That’s why I think Ann Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All is so important.  She’s concerned about the dearth of high-level women leaders in every facet of our country, and even more worried that women, having dropped out over work/life balance issues, aren’t even in the leadership pool.

Without diversity in the highest echelons, we lose a great deal of perspective, or using business terms, we lose the ability to reach crucial markets.  We’re all blind to most issues and needs of anyone who isn’t us. We need help to see things we don’t see. So if our schools, communities, churches and institutions are ever to include people who are different, we’ve got to involve those different folks at every level.

Yet to be honest, despite my deep desire to see diversity in the upper echelons of my ministry, I’ve been reluctant to be part of the solution for the precise reasons Slaughter observes. I haven’t climbed the leadership ladder, not because I lacked opportunity, but because there are many who can lead but no one else can mother my kids.  My husband’s high-powered job has little flexibility, so keeping a flexible job helps our family.  And when I look up the ladder, I haven’t wanted the costs—especially travel—that promotion entails.

But 20 years after my stint on those boards, I look up and still don’t see many folks that look like me in the top ranks. . . of anything.  And I wonder how God wants folks like me to think about our lives, our calls, our sacrifices.  Because if we don’t join the tables where issues are discussed and decisions are made, how will we ever move forward in God’s desire to serve all peoples well?

You might also enjoy some of my other thoughts on gender and/or work:

The Problem with Having It All

Annie, Shoot your Gun Already!

Toilet Paper Distribution, or how Equality and Justice aren’t the Same Thing

Boy Parts vs. Girl Parts–More on Gender and Justice

3 Reasons I Work for Money

My Theology of Parenting or Why I Gave Up Being God

  • regular joe

    OK, fine, lack of category X in leadership results in less of category X getting their factional issues advocated for, that’s a real cost. But the list of category X’s is very long indeed. Asian as ‘person of color’, hmm, so a careerist board joining graduate advisor meeting youngish person from the most driven and sucessful ethnic group represents the interests of a 16 year old pregnant black girl from the ghetto who doesn’t know who the father of her baby is and will barely read upon graduation from high school? I doubt it. The fact is that the usual little boxes in the Diversity roster intended to dilute the power of those who naturally rise to leadership will always be woefully inadequate to their intended goal. A little ‘oh we need more affirmative action get more of X into position Y which they otherwise wouldn’t be qualified for’ handwringinng has small costs, but at the level of special pleading which Slaughter’s article represents, we pay fairly large costs for shoveling morsels into the gaping hungry maw of Diversity.


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