“I have to be honest…” I sometimes “cringe” when I hear a person start their conversation with those words. I mean, really, is there any other way to be? Yet, in this case, the “I have to be honest” is not for others, it’s for me! I have to be honest with myself. As I read through the “Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice” I stopped on chapter 14, “Women and Leadership: Defining the Challenges.” I have to be honest…I didn’t want to stop on chapter 14 and reflect on this topic. I have to be honest…I didn’t want to write on this topic and risk being named “one of those women” who needs to get over this “issue” and move on. Well, I have to be honest…I have worked through this issue, but it is still an issue!
As I continued reading, I was captivated or perhaps overwhelmed by the way, Robin J. Ely and Deborah L. Rhode, the writers of this chapter, captured many of the struggles, barriers, attitudes and stereotypes women have endured throughout the years in the area of leadership.
The authors point out that a fundamental challenge to women’s leadership arises from the mismatch between the qualities traditionally associated with leaders and those traditionally associated with women. The words assertive and authority are usually terms that are associated with leadership. However, when a woman demonstrates these traits she is considered to be aggressive, abrasive, bossy and pushy (and these are a few of the “nicer” words). In my conversations with women leaders, they have shared some of the things they take into account when preparing for a meeting, presentation, etc… For example, they think about how their voice may sound. If it’s too high pitch they try to lower their pitch so that they won’t be considered too girly, too whiny, or too “nagging.” They want to appear confident, but not too self-confident because they don’t want to be considered pushy.
Another area the authors write about is in the area of self-promoting. Women tend to see themselves as less deserving than men of rewards for the same performance and as less qualified for key leadership positions.  The author goes on to say that this behavior may keep them from taking risks that are critical for developing key leadership skills.
I remember sitting with a young woman who had just started working, half time, as the spiritual formation pastor in a church. This young woman had completed her seminary degree, was professional and clearly had a pastoral calling. Her colleagues included two male pastors —- the lead pastor (full time), who was also seminary trained and had many years of experience, and a youth pastor (half time) who had just started his seminary education. When they were in a board meeting and the issue of salary increases was presented the board decided to give the youth pastor a raise because they did not want him “flipping burgers.” As for the young woman, the spiritual formation pastor, they told her that since she has a husband she has other income. One of the women on the board, jokingly said, we could give her $75.00 to help her with make-up and nylons! As I heard this young woman’s story, I could not help but cry with her. I could not help but be outraged for her. It is injustices like this that often keeps women from taking risks and stepping into the leadership positions that can empower others.
It is sad, no perhaps painful to say, that I have seen many women fulfill their work without the same compensation that men receive. Often times these women continue doing their work without an official role or the permission of the ecclesial structures. Some women have chosen to fight from within the structures. Others have chosen to leave and go to other places that were more accepting. And yet, others have decided to create their own church or organization so that they can be free to work more effectively.
At a conference on women in ministry at the Hartford Seminary in 1996, men and women of the Latino Protestant church gathered with the purpose of “doing theology” in relationship to the issue of women in ordained ministry. The method for theological reflection began with the hearing of the “testimonios” (testimonies) of four women in ministry. One of the women shared the following:
My gifts of leadership had been nurtured and affirmed in the church since I was a little girl. I was encouraged to take part in the different ministries of the church. I was mentored by deacons, deaconesses, Sunday school teachers and by the pastor. I learned not only the skills for serving but the spirit of servanthood. Part of this was how to pray. In prayer I was taught to listen for God’s voice. I saw God’s voice and the voice of the church align themselves when it came to my call to ministry. However, when it came time to give me the actual position and title, some people left the church…The only way I understand that is as a place where the Spirit of God and the traditions of the church didn’t seem to agree…I felt the call of God to the pastorate even more strongly and the authority of God’s voice in me was the one I obeyed. It gave me great power to act without fear.
Unfortunately, the “testimonio” of this woman is not unique. Many women have walked similar paths. Being a leader, in this case a woman leader is not easy. It’s not easy being left off the partnership track. It’s not easy listening to the stereotypes. It’s not easy not having your voice heard or being criticized because of the way you sound. It’s not easy seeing people leave simply because you’re a woman.
So why continue? Why continue this thing called leadership? Well, “I have to be honest” with myself—I continue because “the love of Christ compels me!…And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”
As a leader I continue to realize that this is not about “me,” it’s about others. Leadership is about creating and strengthening relationships, about building commitment…It’s about creating meaning…True leaders are merchants of hope, speaking to the collective imagination of their followers, co-opting them to join them in a great adventure…Great leaders inspire people to move beyond personal… It’s about loving the people you are leading. May the love of Christ urge us on!
 Robin J. Ely and Deborah L. Rhode, “Women and Leadership: Defining the Challenges,” in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, eds. Nitin Nohria and RakeshKhurana, (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2010), p. 378.
 Ibid., p. 388.
 Martell-Otero, Loida I., Maldonado Pérez, Zaida, Conde-Fraizer, Elizabeth. Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey From the Margins. (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2013) p. 96.
 Ibid., p. 97
 Bible: New Revised Standard Version, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.
 Manfred Kets de Vries and Elisabet Engallau, “A Clinical Approach to the Dynamics of Leadership and Executive Transformation,” in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, eds. Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2010), p. 199.