By David Westlake
I have had a strange week. It started with some discussions with an organisation to explore doing some work together. In the middle of the conversation they asked me what I thought of women in leadership. I thought it a strange question, answered that I believe in equality and we moved on. The joint work didn’t work out. I think that question had something to do with it.
Later in the week I sat with an amazing and accomplished young woman who was fighting back the tears as she explained how she felt so marginalised and patronised by male colleagues. She would say something and be ignored. A male colleague would make the same point and be viewed as the voice of an angel. Her contributions were often overlooked while ‘the buzz’ was around a male co-worker. And yes, part of it was her learning how to present herself. And yes, part of it was her personal confidence and security. But yes, part of it was that she was trying to operate in a boys club and the bar was set much higher for her than for the men. Sadly I don’t expect most of the men understood the culture that they were creating and sustaining. I can only think that they did not realise that there were losers in their game.
The week ended with me crying in a business meeting. I was working with an organisation and we were talking about gender. I was trying to reflect some of the realities of gender awareness in that organisation, trying to share a little of what I had observed and what I had heard directly.
And I cried.
This is unusual for me and has led me to wonder why.
Part of me feels shame. Shame for where I have colluded with a male dominated culture, used humour to marginalise rather than build up, overlooked outstanding contributions or potential and been part of the boys club rather than a truly empowering and releasing leader. Shame that too often I have been blind to my own privilege and failed to transcend my background.
Part of it is me beginning to empathise with the pain that many of my female friends and colleagues often feel. And anger that they have to be better, try harder and adopt false persona’s and ways of communicating. Part of me is frustrated that so many of my male colleagues simply don’t see. And I am really angry that some of them do see but don’t think it matters. I am tired of the patronising comments that women need to toughen up, not be so sensitive, learn how to take a joke. All said by men of power who have absolutely no sense of humour when their own positions and contributions are threatened or not recognised.
And while I am depressed by every new testosterone fueled, ‘leadership as domination’ man that I meet (and I meet a depressingly large number of them) I am in awe of the amazing women leaders around me who thrive and soar high despite the odds. And I am encouraged and motivated by the male leaders around me who are embracing complementariness, grace and servant-heartedness. Jesus was unique as a Rabbi in welcoming, including and commissioning women as well as men. How far we have fallen.
And it is this fallenness that I think made me cry. In the beginning God made men and women. Both were equally an expression of his image, character and love. Men and women were commissioned together for both child rearing and ruling. Then the fall happened and what was meant to be together got broken. The world has been crying ever since. Men and women were supposed to be together- equally. We still need to be together if we are to fully represent God, understand His will and live His ways. Male dominated leadership cannot do this. Strict gender based roles cannot do this. And when we belittle, marginalise, overlook and make life harder for women not only do we fail to represent God faithfully, we also destroy a little bit of His image in one of his very loved children.
It’s enough to make you cry.
Friends of mine have set up a new organisation that works on related issues. You can find them at www.restoreduk.org