Women In Mission Leadership
Women in Leadership by Jennifer Holloran
At the 2016 Annual Conference in 2016, Missio Nexus honored Wycliffe Bible Translators with the Excellerate Award for Women in Leadership. When I heard about the award, I was thrilled, but not surprised. My experience with Wycliffe over the past 15 years has included consistent affirmation and encouragement as a woman serving in multiple levels of leadership, so an award recognizing achievement in this area supported what I have seen personally. I am convinced that Wycliffe’s culture, policies, and intentionality have been key in helping many women to grow and develop fully into the gifts and abilities God has given them.
A Culture of Women in Leadership
My service with Wycliffe began in 2002, where I started in an entry-level role in Personnel at the age of 23. I was not thinking about the potential of future leadership opportunities at that point. I was trying to figure out how God might be calling me. However, had I thought about it at that time, it would never have crossed my mind that there would be any obstacle to serving in leadership with Wycliffe as a woman, because the Vice President over my department at that time was a woman, and her successor was also a woman. Just a few short years later, one of our Senior Vice Presidents was also woman, I look back on that now with great appreciation, because I never had to question whether Wycliffe would welcome a woman in leadership. These examples of women in leadership gave me the answer before I even asked the question.
As my skills and abilities grew over time, I also experienced tremendous encouragement and support from the leaders over me. I had the opportunity to participate in “stretch assignments” to help me continue to develop. Leaders above me regularly assured me that, as I grew, there would be ways to use my leadership skills. My gender was never a part of those conversations. Instead, the focus was on how God continued to grow the leadership skills He had given me. And as positions opened above me, I was encouraged to move into those positions and to continue to develop through experience at the next level of leadership.
Today, I have the privilege to continue that culture as I mentor, coach, and cheer on other women in our organization who are also called into current and future leadership. My hope is that all of our staff, women and men, will experience an environment that invites them to reach their full potential in the gifts and abilities that God has given them. I believe that organizations that embrace this kind of philosophy will experience the benefits of the abilities of all of their staff. I also believe that they will experience greater staff satisfaction and retention.
A particular milestone for me in my development as a leader occured when I became pregnant. I served in a managerial role at the time. My husband and Idid not believe God wanted me to bring an end to that service after the birth of our daughter, but we didn’t know what the transition back to work would look like after maternity leave. Thanks to the commitment of my supervisor to keep me engaged and leadership committed to family-friendly policies, I had permission to bring my daughter to work during the early days of my transition back to the office. The experience proved positive as I could continue to serve while also being able to bond with my daughter. Because it worked so well, Wycliffe began offering that same opportunity to other new parents.
Those early foundations created policies that resulted in even more family-friendly options. In the Wycliffe headquarters, most new parents, moms or dads, can bring their infant to work until the child is 8 months old or when the infant starts to crawl, whichever comes first. We converted a former meeting room to serve as a private nursing room for new mothers. We are frequently able to convert office space to provide a quiet place for infant nap time. This sounds like it would be very disruptive (and it certainly requires a thought-out Human Resources policy and procedure), but it is quite amazing to see how departments come together around their “office babies” and value them as a part of their department family for that season and beyond.
All organizations have their own culture and practices based on a variety of factors. Wycliffe’s practices may not be right for all organizations. However, I believe that all organizations can benefit from considering where there are opportunities for family-friendly policies that fit their organizational culture. Again, the right policies will increase the ability for staff to serve successfully and will improve retention and morale during these critical phases in the lives of their staff.
Intentionality in Diversity
Today, I serve as the Chief Human Resources Officer for Wycliffe, which means that I get to listen in to the conversations that take place around board development and to participate in conversations about how we fill leadership positions. I believe that the reason why we have a meaningful representation of women on the Wycliffe board and on our leadership team is because there is intentional planning and effort that goes into increasing our diversity in those areas. This means purposeful consideration of potential board candidates. It must include conscious development of staff. It means awareness of upcoming board and leadership transitions.
Unfortunately, without intentionality, increased board and leadership diversity simply does not happen. Further, a lack of intentionality in these areas will actually cause organizations to lose diversity over time. Organizations that want to grow in this area can begin today by analyzing their current board and leadership make-up, recognizing areas where they want to grow, and developing a plan to increase diversity for the future.
Consistent Practices to Continue Diversity in Leadership in the Future
Like all organizations, in order to see women continue to have a meaningful place in leadership, Wycliffe must continue to have consistent practices that encourage women, promote women, and plan for women in leadership. I believe that for Wycliffe, this must include maintaining a healthy culture in this area, continuing family-friendly policies and planning intentionally for gender diversity at the board and leadership levels. While Wycliffe practices may not be the best options for all organizations, it is important for leaders of all organizations to have clarity around their philosophy on women in leadership, and to promote policies and practices that help their organization achieve their goals in this area. Careful attention to this will mean the world to the women in your organization who are waiting to use the leadership abilities God has given them!
Jennifer Holloran serves as the Chief Human Resource Officer for Wycliffe Bible Translators and is the newest member of the Missio Nexus Board of Directors.