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Creating Pathways for Women in Leadership

Creating Pathways (and Reducing Barriers) for Women in Organizational Leadership

A report from the Mission Nexus 24 event December 4-5, 2017 in Post Falls, ID
Facilitated by Wendy Wilson, Leanne Dzubinski, and Rob Dixon
Summary of Event
This peer-learning event focused on recognizing and reducing unintended barriers to leadership (and even full partnership) for women in ministry. The discussion started by hearing the kinds of challenges participants were experiencing and what they hoped could happen as change was embraced. Challenges ranged from “missionary wives” feeling locked out of opportunities to contribute more directly to the mission of the organization, to organizations wanting more women in senior leadership but unable to find them.
We built on these felt needs with a discussion of the kinds of structural, personal, and theological barriers that seem to hinder organizations most frequently (Wendy). Then participants interacted as they identified from these barriers, and others that then came to mind, the ones that most affected them currently.
Common areas of concern centered around issues such as
  • unclear or disparate theological views in the organization,
  • job descriptions unavailable to or unworkable for women,
  • lack of pathways to identify and develop women, and
  • policies on men/women working together in travel and meetings.
From this lively discussion, we moved into a session on unconscious gender bias – traditional practices that have taken hold in the organizational culture as a result of design and habits acquired during a male-centered era of leadership.  Leanne has done extensive research to identify what these barriers are (societal, organizational, and individual) and how they prevent women from engaging well.
By helping us give them a name and describing how they are at play (without blame but to understand impact) we were able to:
  • recognize unintended barriers in our experience,
  • understand why tension arises from the impact of these barriers,
  • see how these barriers hinder our desired progress,
  • consider how we might begin to address and remove the barriers.
Fascinating, enlightening, and hopeful interactions!
In the next session Rob walked us through his doctoral research within InterVarsity to identify aspects of organizational culture that most effectively lead to an environment in which men and women flourish in working together. We looked at three primary arenas: Inner Life, Community Culture, and Intentional Practices with 3-4 areas identified in each arena that seem to lead to the highest levels of satisfaction and effectiveness in male/female working relationships (flourishing.)
As we interacted with each practical and well-defined issue, participants were able to:
  • make connections to practices and possibilities for change personally,
  • recommendations for steps toward transformation in their organizational culture.
In the final session, we interacted over some contrived (though based on experience) case studies as well as situations over which participants are actually puzzling in their own real situations. By bringing in helpful aspects of what we learned and by asking for feedback on ways forward from the group, participants were able to:
  • take away some important next steps to recommend in their organizational setting,
  • leave with more confidence to talk about these issues in hope rather than fear.
The discussion of reducing barriers and creating pathways for women is tied to such a wide variety of issues that we all came away understanding the complexity of the issue, and yet also with some pieces of it that could be helpful and important ways forward in a long-term process of change.  Participants (men and women) came from mission agencies (75%) and churches (25%) with a desire to help their organizations better discover and steward the leadership gifts of their staff women. And most of us felt the time was too short!
Watch for this event to be repeated in 2018 due to growing interest in this dynamic topic! 
Report was written by Wendy Wilson – Missio Nexus Mission Advisor for the Development of Women

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