They say it's lonely at the top, and I certainly never planned to find myself there. However, after just a few years as an English professor at a community college, some unexpected circumstances led me to serving as its vice president.
Eager to grow into the effective, inspirational leader I believe God wanted me to be, I looked around for advice and inspiration from people in my situation. Like any good academic, I headed to the library, searched the Internet, and scoured Amazon for information about Christian women in secular leadership positions.
You'd think I was seeking the Holy Grail. I found pages and pages of Christian books by men on leadership, but the few by women focused on ministry. On the secular side, there were barely any more options, save Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. To date, I have not identified one book that is specifically for Christian women leaders in the business world.
Last month's issue of Harvard Business Reviewspotlighted women in leadership, and I believe Christian women face unique challenges in these positions, ones the Christian community should be exploring as well. While only 4.2 percent of Fortune 1000 companies boast a female CEO, slightly more than half of all management and professional positions are held by women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It stands to reason that some of these women must be Christians.
Certain professions, such as those in the health and education sectors, seem more open to women in leadership—as evidenced by the number of female principals, superintendents, vice presidents, and administrators. Among these, we see Christian women who take their faith seriously, who view their job as a calling, and who want to lead in a way that honors God. I know they're out there because I am one of them.
Of course, depending on our views of gender roles, some argue that women should not be in secular leadership positions, particularly where they lead men and women. If that's true, though, where do we draw the line? To echo Abraham's conversation with God regarding Lot (Gen. 18:22-32), if you supervise 50 people, does that make you a leader? What about 25? What about 10? What about 1? While many evangelicals maintain that men should remain leaders of their household, Pew Research found that they show strong support women working outside the home. Unless we relegate women to holding only entry-level, non-supervisory positions, it's inevitable that some will take on leadership roles.
As a member of an Assemblies of God church, women in leadership positions—both inside and outside of the church—is not foreign to me. Many of my friends don't hold an egalitarian view inside the church, but are still quite comfortable with women in secular leadership, at least to a point.
Since Christian women can and do hold leadership positions in secular organizations, the church should work to equip these women with biblical guidance on godly leadership principles. That doesn't seem to be happening. Certainly, general Christian leadership books and classes are helpful, and I'm indebted to a handful of authors and teachers (all male) who have helped me navigate the leadership maze. But where are the women teaching women?
If the church doesn't provide this insight for Christian women in secular leadership, they may decide to rely on secular resources such as Barsh and Cranton's bestseller, How Remarkable Women Lead. There's definitely some good material there, but should we trust a message that tells us: "Our power comes from developing and deploying our talents, from reframing challenge into opportunity, from connecting to forge strength, from facing our fears. Power is an energy force—neither good nor evil…" (p. xxv). This view of power is definitely different from Andy Crouch's recent article positing that power is a gift from God that should be used to ensure "the flourishing of others." Should we try to increase our power through Barsh and Cranton's methods to create an "energy force" or should we be relying on our relationship with God to help us develop this gift in order to serve others? Are we as Christian women willing to settle for the world's take on what female leaders should do, or should we be carving our own course, one grounded on biblical principles and God's definition of success?
My usual resources having failed me, I turned to my pastor, who suggested creating a growth group for professional Christian women. He helped identify a handful of women in law, health, education, banking, and other professions who might be interested in participating.
We're currently hammering out what we want this group to do and how it will function, but we're all in agreement that we need both insight and accountability to discuss tough issues like, Who can I talk to at work when there are no other females on my leadership level? How do I lead decisively without looking like a witch? When and how should I share my faith so it doesn't look like I'm force feeding Christianity to my employees? How do I interact with male leaders in a way that's both effective for my organization and pleasing to God?
I doubt there'll be many pat answers, and I suspect there won't be universal agreement. But it's the start of a conversation that's been too long in the making, and one that the church in America needs to join.
Donna Hill is vice president of student affairs at College of the Ouachitas. She and her husband have five children and live in Benton, Arkansas. She writes on parenting and women's issues and particularly enjoys writing humor.