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Published Date: June 5, 2022

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Cover of "Created to Thrive".

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Speakers Highlight: Beth Birmingham and Eeva Sallinen Simard

To start, could you tell us a bit about yourselves?

Eeva Sallinen Simard: I’m currently a project director with World Relief. My project works in international development in maternal and child health, and Covid in six countries. I’ve been in the nonprofit sector my whole career—whether in university, church, or nonprofit settings. Faith-based nonprofits, mainly. I’m originally from Finland. I immigrated to the US about twenty years ago. I’m a mom to two teenagers. Our family lives in Baltimore.

Beth Birmingham: I spent twenty-two years at Eastern University in a school that focused on leadership development with the missional and non-government organization sector, mainly on other continents. So rather than students and leaders from the NGO world coming to us in Philadelphia, we took our graduate programs in leadership and international development to them on the field.

I decided to leave that world in 2015 to go work for a child development NGO for a few years, and then Eeva and I started a consulting business offering leadership development, strategic projects, and research and evaluation for the NGO space. For both of us, our entire careers have been about serving and equipping those who serve in the faith-based NGO sector. It’s a calling.

How did you two start working together?

Eeva: I was working on some strategic initiatives, maybe ten years ago, and Beth at the time at Eastern was doing these leadership training consultancies with different NGOs. We needed leadership training at World Relief. We met first over a phone call, and from there it just snowballed. We pulled together this awesome initiative and trained five or six cohorts of young leaders in the organization. After that initiative we became friends and kept in touch. Eventually we started dreaming up things, including the book that we just wrote together.

Beth: This book was actually born from a CBE conference, which is what’s bringing us back to CBE—it’s kind of a lovely, fluid symmetry. We both spoke at the 2019 conference in Texas and did workshops on similar topics around women’s equality in the workplace. InterVarsity was in the audience and said, “Would you turn that topic into a book?” We agreed that we wanted to do it together. Our book will come out October 18th, 2022.

What do you hope people learn about women’s leadership in nonprofits at your workshop, “Creating Cultures of Belonging: Cultivating Organizations Where Women and Men Thrive”?

Beth: We have poured our professional experiences and research we have conducted over the years into this book. It’s about if we want to change the system of inequality, and women’s inequality really is a systemic problem in faith-based NGOs, we need to address it with a systems approach. Now, people aren’t going to be happy to hear that because they want easy answers. They want a quick fix. And this is not a quick fix. Organizational culture is a priority for NGOs . . . until the next big issue knocks it off the leadership agenda. And those happen weekly. Our NGO world has been heavily exclusive, leaving women out of the significant decision-making. But we don’t blame men. We are caught in historical practices and systemic challenges. We need to communicate and educate people to the reality that getting the culture right is not just a “nice to have.” It is a strategic necessity for the future, for your organization. Younger generations of leaders won’t settle for work cultures that exclude women and women of color, so the war for talent is only going to get tougher for those organizations that still marginalize women when it comes to positions of influence.

Far too much leadership is lived out in such a way that it doesn’t welcome anything but hypermasculine, hypercompetitive growth at all costs. And that is not a sustainable venture, nor is it godly. So let’s bring the Jesus that we all claim to want to serve back into the center of our organizations.

Eeva: The more diverse our leadership tables, the more the benefit, the more innovative the decision-making, the better the business outcomes, the richer the conversation, the richer the recognition of even the right questions to ask in our very complex world. The cost of ignoring women is losing all those benefits. Some of the research shows that organizations that are identifying and recognizing that women are needed are immediately witnessing better profit margins and better decision-making. Another very important aspect is how not including women often gets businesses and organizations into trouble. Many cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, misconduct, and the MeToo movement are a testament to the fact that power has been concentrated in the hands of very few powerful men, and we are missing checks and balances inside our organizations. There is not enough diversity, let alone distribution of power into the hands of many in a way that decisions and the balance of power would result in safe and healthy organizations. So the inclusion of women, and diversity in leadership in general, is also a way for organizations to create guardrails and to create conditions where more people and more diverse people are heard and consulted. Organizations simply cannot afford to continue to ignore women and ignore minorities.

How has Galatians 3:28 affected your own discipleship and ministry?

Beth: I think what Galatians does is challenge the human-created power structure.

Eeva: That’s right. It’s a key verse that we also quote and expand from a lot in the book. But for me, personally, I began to see it in this light of the structures that ruled when Jesus came. He tore down those old patriarchal structures that still stand. To be part of that kingdom creation work that Jesus started, it is our calling to keep tearing down those patriarchal structures. There can be no kingdom where those things exist—where there are these divisions between women and men. Or divisions between people of different races or cultures.

What’s really important is this emphasis on shared leadership. We are all called in an equal way, and that’s been, for me, very transformative. I’ve been able to see myself as an equal minister, equally called, rather than as someone’s sidekick, or the afterthought, or the other. I think that is a very healing thing to women when we reach that point in our discipleship.

Beth: Christ’s arrival moved us from being people of the law to people that were free through Christ’s work on the cross. And he didn’t just bring freedom for those that were already in positions of power and leadership. His presence brought freedom to all those who had been marginalized previously, and that was unheard of. I think that’s why it was so hard for people to embrace him. As soon as you start to preach a message of a Christ that comes to break down the barriers between man and woman and slave and free and this race and that race, people start to perceive the notion of equality as somebody’s going to have to lose, and it’s going to be those who previously had power. Dr. Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist, speaks about this reality—when you are a person who has had the privilege, as soon as you start to experience what true equality looks like, you believe now that you are oppressed. And that is what we’re challenging here.

The Galatians passage is critical to the work that we’re doing because it’s Jesus breaking past the barriers that men made back then, and men have continued to make today.

Final thoughts that you want to share with our readers?

Beth: We’re just so excited to be coming back to CBE. It’s such an energizing environment. I don’t think people fully understand the impact that it has on women who have been told their entire lives that they are less-than and that God intended for them to be second. And CBE has been declaring for as long as I can remember that that is not true.

Eeva: I echo what Beth just said. We appreciate the opportunity to be back and finally spend time with everyone after two long years apart. We’re really looking forward to it.

This article is from “The Fullness of Galatians 3:28,” the Summer 2022 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.