Female theology students in a rural context are often online students who don’t regularly see flesh-and-blood role models: women who are leading in church, teaching a mixed congregation and fulfilling other roles.
For the first time in modern history, God is placing women in strategic positions of influence and leadership within the church, public, corporate, charity, and voluntary sectors, in unprecedented numbers. Women are called to flourish in these arenas. However, there are significant external and internal issues that hinder women in leadership in unique ways.
We were guinea pigs, the women that year and I. We knew—after we had applied and been accepted—that our school had just begun admitting women to the MDiv program, the denomination new to the concept of women in the pulpit.
“So, are you a student here too?” asked the young IT worker I called to fix my office computer. I smiled, wondering how the student missed my name on the office door, or the row of diplomas framed on the wall. “No, I’m a professor here.” Sexism against women in college undoubtedly happens, but sexism against female college faculty is perhaps more often overlooked. As a thirtysomething woman professor at a Christian university, I have a unique perspective on sexism in higher education.
I so wish I could have told those bright young women about the challenges they will face as they enter their careers and endeavor to find satisfaction in their work and lives. I did not want to be that person, warning optimistic young women about future obstacles—and that the odds of success are ever stacked against them. I fear, though, that if we don’t have open conversations about workplace and cultural challenges, if we don’t call out hurdles by name, we set women up for failure when they enter the workplace.
Nearly 50% of the US workforce are women, working mainly in workplaces designed by and for men. Disadvantages in the workplace cut across secular and Christian organizations, disadvantaging women from enjoying meaningful work and motherhood, advancement in careers, and ultimately living out their God-given gifts and talents. Many of these disadvantages can be tracked down to deeply-held beliefs about women, work, and leadership, beliefs that Jesus sought to dissolve. This workshop explores the mutual prosperity of men and women in organizations when women succeed at work and gain a seat around the table.
The epidemic of women’s unpaid work is a serious problem and it’s one that should concern us as Christians. Whether by implication, necessity, or demand, women aren’t being credited or compensated for their work. They are often taken less seriously as professionals and expected to take sole responsibility for housework and other traditionally feminine kinds of work. Not all labor—such as household work—is the kind of work for which we give and receive a paycheck. But it remains that for much of history, patriarchy has ensured that all of women’s work—official and unofficial and paid and unpaid—is seen as less than, and that women’s labor can be taken for granted.