In research recently done by Susan R. Madsen of Utah Valley University, an interesting similarity among women leaders was found. Surveyed women said the reason they are leaders is because they had supportive family and friends—most notably their fathers—who helped them discover their voice and encouraged them to be leaders.
My family certainly played a role in encouraging me to be a leader, especially my father. While I was growing up, my dad always believed in me and held me to high standards, pushing me to do my best. Even as a child, he valued what I had to say, and he took interest in the things I was interested in. He’s still one of my biggest supporters today, and I have no doubt that this lifelong support helped give me the confidence to lead.
What’s often difficult for women, though, is when we leave the safe confines of our support systems and enter the world of leadership—whether in ministry, the workplace, or elsewhere. Women face unique challenges in leadership, including direct opposition. Despite this, “women now occupy almost every conceivable role in public life. They manage companies, build cities, and start civil-rights movements. They care for children, volunteer at schools, and lead worship. They practice medicine, create art, and run countries”—according to a recent article in The Atlantic. On the other hand, women make up less than 40 percent of managers in the workplace—despite making up over half the U.S. population—and they’re paid nearly $11,000 less than men.
Women Face Unique Challenges
Recently, we surveyed you, our readers, and we learned so many great things about you and what you face. For starters, nearly all of you minister on a volunteer basis—even if your title is minister or pastor. And while that fact utterly frustrated me, it also brought a smile to my face thinking about your determination and commitment. Of course, so much of church work consists of things we love to do—things we offer to do free of charge. But I also know this can be a huge hindrance to women leaders, especially when that role requires a significant time investment. It can force women to lead elsewhere in order to financially support their families. Others may have to take on other work so they can volunteer and still have the financial resources they need.
There were several other challenges specific to being a woman leader that you voiced through our survey. Many of you shared that you struggle with communicating effectively with male coworkers, not being taken seriously in your church, and navigating the lack of ministry opportunities available for women. You also talked about the frustration of balancing your time—not so much in the clichéd home-work balance sense, but in balancing a full-time ministry workload in your 10 available hours each week. The problem is even more acutely felt if you’re not paid for your work. After all, many households depend on the income women provide.