Kate Coleman on the 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership
Sometimes the things holding women back from their full potential in leadership don't come from society or the institutions they work for, but rather the destructive behaviours and crippling mindsets they can fall into from time to time.
Published 30 September 2010
Kate Coleman made church history when she became the first black woman to be made President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in 2006. She has been described as the “one of the most influential black Christian women leaders in the UK” and is the founder and director of Next Leadership, as well as a popular author and speaker.
In her new book, ‘7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership’, she outlines what she believes are the seven most destructive behaviours that women in leadership succumb to: limiting self-perceptions; failure to draw the line; inadequate personal vision; an unhealthy work-life rhythm; the ‘disease to please’; colluding instead of confronting; and neglecting family matters.
She talks to Christian Today about her book and why she believes the church still has more work to do when it comes to empowering women.
CT: Why did you feel the need to write this book?
KC: I’ve met women who were sometimes in quite high powered positions, both in the church and outside of it, who were just undermining themselves and that the undermining was not always coming from the outside. Sometimes it was coming from something on the inside. These were things I had also experienced in leadership and I just wanted to help women realise their full potential and understand who God called them to be.
CT: You say in your book that there isn’t enough support for women in leadership and that what resources are available tend to be by men and tailored for men. Do you feel there is a gap there that the church needs to be addressing?
KC: Yes, and it’s across the board and in all sectors. There is more stuff out there now for women in the secular arenas but even that is quite small in number. Many women are reading material on leadership and realising that something isn’t quite connecting, that the material isn’t really addressing the issues they are facing. This book is making that obvious and saying ‘this is why it might not be working - because there is another dimension that you haven’t noticed’.
CT: Do you think that is because there isn’t much agreement about the role of women in the church?
KC: Yes, I think you’re right. In the marketplace and community environment there is a recognition that unless women are enabled and empowered, actually the community and the marketplace will suffer. In the marketplace, money is the bottom line but in the church the bottom line is often blurred because of tradition, beliefs, the way in which we do things and understand ourselves. Where women are in leadership, those around them don’t always know how to support them and there is of course the debate about whether women should be in leadership and if so, then on what basis and if they shouldn’t, then what we should do with them and how should we affirm them without making it sound like they are second class citizens, which to be honest is usually how it sounds. ‘We don’t mean this and we don’t mean that, but really women aren’t as good as men!’
CT: Do you think women in leadership have a role to play in inspiring other women to be leaders?
KC: Absolutely. Sometimes if women have ‘found their way through the labyrinth’, as one book calls it, sometimes they just haven’t got time to look back and help other women along. It’s not always conscious and because they don’t want other women to come through. Sometimes it’s just because they are working so hard at the coal face and it’s not easy to find yourself in that position. Some women don’t always want the competition. But it is my belief that women who are in leadership positions have a responsibility to make way for other women coming behind them. If we don’t do it, the likelihood is that no one else will. I was struggling with these deadly sins and needed someone else to tell me I was good at this and give me a platform to do something. If I needed that then there are other women who also need that.
CT: You are bound to get people thinking this is just another woman beating the gender drum and that we have really come a long way.
KC: The reality is, look at all the top jobs in the marketplace, the church, the community centre, they’re taken by men. There is movement, there is progress and more women out there but there is still a ceiling – or stained glass ceiling – and that needs to be addressed. Parity has not been reached. Organisations like the UN recognise that equality is conducive to good societies. If that’s the case, then we haven’t got to any of the good stuff yet. There are only a few women who are realising that wonderful sensation of being recognised in their own right at the top of their field.
CT: So you want men to read this too?
KC: Absolutely. I hoped the title would provoke that reaction. I want men to be educated but also encouraged because this is not an anti-men book. It’s about saying that we all need to get into position and that we have been remiss in our approach to women.
CT: Do you feel anyone is to blame or is it simply that we’ve inherited mindsets?
KC: It never occurred to me that God might be calling me to leadership until it happened. That’s when I began to see things I never saw before. When I was young I used to feel that it was on purpose and men were trying to destroy and undermine. Sometimes guys and women do deliberately try to scupper women in leadership but for the most part it is the atmosphere in which we live, it is the air we are breathing. It is a chicken and egg scenario and we perpetuate it because this is what we’ve come to believe. When we recognise that some of the atmosphere we are living in is toxic we can begin to take action and lower our emissions and deal with the issues that are hindering women.
CT: You say women often have “limited self perceptions” and an “inadequate personal vision”. Why do you think these things are still issues for women in the church?
KC: We live on the same planet as everyone else and we all come from somewhere. We’ve got history and traditions and family experiences and all the stuff that the world has fed in. When we embrace Christ, we are a new creation in him but we are also being recreated and the Christian life is a journey. We’re humans, basically, but just profoundly blessed because Jesus is in our life.
CT: A lot of the problems the book highlights take root at a young age. The church is very good at the homeless issues, the poverty issues, but do you think the church needs to become more intentional in the area of mental and emotional wellbeing?
KC: I believe that so strongly. For the most part we are good at the remedial stuff but we’re not so good at preventative approaches. We don’t address ways to prevent people ending up in things like alcoholism - apart from telling people not to do it. There is a lot of internal stuff that leads us down tracks that aren’t helpful. With Christians, this can mean ending up in places that are compromising or destructive. Unless the church recognises this, we are going to constantly be mopping up after things have already gone wrong. We need to focus on both preventative and remedial stuff because God does. We love our neighbours as ourselves but sometimes we fail to see that we need to also love ourselves. God tells us to renew our mind and tells us what attitudes about ourselves we need to deal with.
CT: You stress that women have to take time out and identify some of their destructive behaviours. Do you think that’s the bigger hurdle for us? That the destructive behaviours are not so much a problem as the fact that we don’t take that time to deal with them?
KC: Yes, I think that is a huge thing. That’s the big problem. Because if we do pause long enough, then we do realise that there are some things that aren’t quite right. But the nature of how we are programmed as women is that we are programmed to be other-centred and serve everyone else. If we pause to think about ourselves we feel guilty, even if that is thinking about becoming better people and being better believers. Until we stop, we are going to be hamsters stuck in cages on our hamster wheels.
CT: There’s one point in your book where you say that “despite the subconscious paralysis”, many women still exercise “clear and decisive” leadership. Is it perhaps not a problem after all then, if the result is still good anyway?
KC: No, because the result could be better. We are exercising some fantastic leadership despite the crippling effects on the inside but just think how much better we would be as leaders, how much clearer we would be if we didn’t have these things. We have got to a certain place by gritting our teeth and putting our hands to the plough. But what if what was on the inside was the same as what was on the outside, and we had a peace and confidence that was real and flowed all the way through what we are doing, and the way we were was as honouring to God as what we are trying to do. God is less interested in what we do, and more interested that what we do and who we are is like a stick of rock - the same all the way through.
CT: You say that many of the perceptions of men and women in the church are still based on the Fall and that because of that, the purposes of God remain unfulfilled. How do you want the church to take things from here?
KC: The church can revisit the scriptures and church history and global history. As we do that we will discover that the evidence points to the opposite conclusion from the one many people have. God has always worked through women and in women, and where women have been given space to flourish very good things have come of that. In terms of global history more bad has come out of men’s leadership than women’s leadership, although yes, that is simply because there have been more men leaders!
We need to take a closer look and ask whether we have understood what God is doing or if what we perceive has been clouded by our own worldview? Have we been guilty of sinning against the body and against the Lord by hindering women’s progress? We need to ask these questions so that what God wants to accomplish can be accomplished.
Some of my frustration is that the church is lagging behind the secular world and this hasn’t always been the case. In the early church it was the church that was leading the way. Now we are watching the world do all this stuff as we sit in fear that some belief that we hold dear is going to be destabilised. Maybe the Lord is destabilising these things because he’s got another agenda. If women get freed up, goodness me!
More news from the Comment