Recently this post on the Harvard Business Review page caught my eye. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/02/how_female_leaders_should_handle_double_standards.html
The article discusses the double standards that are often applied to women in leadership roles many of which stem from out dated gender stereotypes. Men are judged based on skills and women are often judged on the basis of appearance. Men are expected to be strong leaders capable of an appropriate degree of aggression in business settings. A woman who displays similar skills may be accused of having “sharp elbows”.
And that got me thinking about the role of women in the church. I’d like to believe that my parishioners, students and colleagues judge me on the basis of my skills and abilities. But, there’s a small inner voice that wonders if sometimes my lack of attention to style, makeup, shoes; all of those small details that my mother said were important, may in fact be a part of the way in which I’m assessed? I don’t want to think it’s true. I want to believe that if I am direct and straightforward in a conversation I’m viewed as decisive and not as having “sharp elbows”. But as I said, the small voice is still there. And if the voice is there in my own head is it also playing in the heads of others?
I met recently with a young woman who is considering a call to ministry. In our conversation I heard echoes of my own doubts of a decade ago but also the whispers of that small voice. Can I really do this and do it as well as my male colleagues?
The writer of the Harvard Business Review article, Herminia Ibarra, suggests the following strategies for dealing with double standards:
- Understand how you are perceived and what role gender stereotypes play in those perceptions. Get informed about the research; don’t be naive.
- Have clarity of purpose. Know why you are doing what you are doing, and how it will advance the collective good.
- Be yourself. “Dare the difference,” as Lagarde advises. But do so skillfully. Don’t just let it all hang out; and never confuse “being authentic” with “fatal flaws” such as treating people poorly.
Her words are helpful in framing my own role in ministry. Be aware of potential stereotypes and biases. I’d rephrase that as being willing to speak truth to power but also to speak the truth in love to those who are still in bondage to bias. Know who you are and why you do what you do. In my world we call that a sense of calling. When the voice in my head gets loud I remind myself that God called me to “live a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called.” As long as I’m living into my calling, to the best of my ability, then the naysayers have little power to influence me. And finally, Be yourself! Got it. In other words my lack of attention to the latest style, or the newest shoes is simply a part of who I am. I’m much more excited about a new book than a new sweater. As Popeye said “I am what I am.” And that is enough for me, for God, for me to follow and to lead.