Do women have an advantage in leadership?

In YWAM we are blessed to have a leader who isn’t afraid of writing a book called ‘Why Not Women?’ We are used to hearing teaching on the ‘Father heart of God,’ but perhaps less so on the ‘Mother heart of God.’ Right at the beginning of Genesis we read, ‘So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Gen 1:27). In patriarchal Europe we tend to see God as masculine, however this verse puts us right!

In the gospels, Jesus lives life and shares parables and metaphors describing Father God with qualities we would call more feminine. For instance, the parable of the prodigal son shows a father not requiring any repentance or restitution but having empathy and receiving back his son with open arms and acceptance. Jesus talks about gathering Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks. He washes the feet of his disciples, a task known to be a servant’s role. He thinks about providing food for his followers on several occasions – a woman’s job in his day. He doesn’t get into a debate when the adulterous woman is thrown at his feet but shows mercy. Throughout the gospels, we see women at ease in approaching Jesus who converses freely with them. Who do we see at every stage of the passion – yes, women.

Richard Rohr in his book Simplicity shares, ‘One of the main features of my work in America is retreats and counselling for priests. And although these men know a great deal about theology, I have found to my surprise that their image of God is 90% a mixture of the image of their own mothers and fathers. And for some reason, they are always amazed when they discover this. If their mother was harshly critical, so is their God. If their father was distant and cold so is their God. I would like to encourage you to check and see to what extent this applies to your own life.’

Have you ever wondered why Jesus came as a man and why he chose twelve men? Rohr suggests, ‘If Jesus had come as a woman and had this woman been forgiving and compassionate and had she taught non-violence, we wouldn’t have experienced that as a revelation. “Oh well, a typical woman,” we would have said. But the fact that a man in a patriarchal society took on qualities that we call feminine, was a breakthrough in revelation.’

So much of Jesus’s time is given to teaching how to live differently, yet on many occasions the apostles didn’t catch on. We have wanted a God who is strong, powerful and in control, so we conclude that a woman wouldn’t get the job done! Men have found it difficult to take hold of the qualities of the sermon on the mount – humility, turning the other cheek, forgiving your enemies, etc. And finally, who does Jesus choose to reveal himself to after his resurrection? It’s Mary Magdalene who believes while men doubt. (The picture above is of Mary from the TV series A.D – worth a watch). The Catholics tried in the Middle Ages to even out the balance of the image of God as male by giving a focus on the image of Mary. It wasn’t the best theology to Mary divinified in this way but perhaps we protestants haven’t given her enough prominence as the mother of Jesus and the investment she made in bringing him up.

In today’s world, women in the west at least, are finding new freedom to be accepted in roles of leadership. The business world since the 1970s has talked about two kinds of abilities in the workplace: soft and hard skills. The terms were first coined by the U.S. Army as a way of defining different kinds of talents. Hard skills were seen as the ability to produce output, coming with certificates of competence and easier to teach and acquire. Soft skills on the other hand are hard to measure, often a challenge to teach and can be vague and undefined – perhaps as a result were thought of as less important than hard skills.

  • Hard skills include writing, reading, maths and budgeting, independent decision making, the use of technology and programmes, organisation and the how-to of any job.
  • Soft skills are often referred to as emotional intelligence and any ability pertaining to the way you approach or handle people – teamwork, the process of decision making, networking, collaboration, communication, problem-solving, empowerment, empathy, resolving conflicts and building trust.

There is now a recognition that soft skills are just as important as hard skills and, in some ways, more important because hard skills are much easier to learn.

As long as I have been in leadership, I have appreciated my wife sharing roles at my side. With both of us being very different in personality and giftings, her perspectives have balanced me out, her emotional intelligence has enabled me to make informed decisions, helping me to ‘read’ people and situations and to know how to approach, communicate and bring conclusions to complexities.

I am very thankful for some key female leaders in my leadership journey who because of my openness to listen to them, gave such wise, timely advice and input into the ministry. I think of Darlene and wonder where we would be as a mission without her gifts of warmth, wisdom and humility.

I once read about the fastest growing church in the world that has no buildings, no central leadership, and is mostly led by women: ‘What’s fascinating right now is that the most powerful leaders in Iran are women, but it’s not in a bombastic, humanistic way…in fact, they are the most gentle women. They are leading this movement, going out to the highways and byways sharing with prostitutes, drug addicts, with everybody they come into contact with, and that takes courage. They form a majority of the discipleship makers in the nation and are courageous women.’

Why is it so important to have women who lead and are part of our leadership teams? Research by the Hay group of Korn Ferry has revealed that women outperform men in eleven out of twelve emotional intelligence competencies. The greatest difference can be seen in emotional self-awareness, where women are 86% more likely than men to be seen as using competency consistently. Data from 55,000 professionals across ninety countries and all levels of management collected between 2011 and 2015 found that women more effectively employ the emotional and social competencies correlated with effective leadership and management than men. ‘Historically in the workplace, there has been a tendency for women to self-evaluate themselves as less competent, while men tend to overrate themselves in their competencies,’ said Boyatzis, Distinguished University Professor of Case Western Reserve University. It seems men would do better by taking on more characteristics of women in employing their emotional and social competencies, and as a result, become substantially and distinctly more effective in their work.

Other competencies in which women outperform men are coaching, mentoring, influence, inspirational leadership, conflict management, organisational awareness, adaptability, teamwork and achievement orientation. Emotional self-control is the only competency in which men and women showed equal performance. In addition, according to Hay Group research, levels of emotional intelligence displayed by a leader are strongly related to how long their team members plan to stay with the organisation.

So, the conclusion of these findings is obvious – women are to be very involved in leadership teams, alongside men so that we have the opportunity of drawing from our gender strengths and being effective in hard and soft skills. I see the wisdom of God in marriages where the gifts of women and men can be shared together. We are blessed in YWAM to have an abundance of women who outnumber men by a significant amount. Reading these statistical findings gives me great encouragement for the future. The growth challenge then is for men to be happy to have women on every team and be open for more women to take the leading convening roles.

P.S. Stats taken from an article in the Economic Times: Women are better at using soft skills crucial for effective leadership


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