Overheard at synagogue: “I would like to grow up and become a rabbi like you, but my dad doesn’t think women should be rabbis.” From the head rabbi’s seven-year-old daughter to the assistant rabbi who is a woman.
Religious groups seem to be one of the last standouts — along with coal mining and construction — where people feel free to openly declare that women should not hold top jobs. Don’t get me wrong, people in other fields are thinking it. But they know to talk in low voices.
Yesterday, the AP reports, “Jefferts Schori, bishop of Nevada, was elected Sunday as the first female presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the US arm of the Anglican Communion.” She has an advantage over other women rising in religious organizations in that she has worked as a pilot and an oceanographer, other fields that are male dominated. Sharing ideas across industry lines is critical toward diversifying leadership in any given industry. In this sense, Schori is a one-woman meeting-of-the-minds.
But Schori is unique in that more than other fields of business I know, women in the pulpit have separated themselves from women who are breaking down gender barriers in other professions. While women in engineering, for example, align themselves with women in marketing and mentor each other, women in the pulpit are less likely to see themselves in the same boat as these other women.
But they are in the same boat: Religious organizations have office politics and salary issues; there are issues over who gets their own secretary and there are issues with sixty-year-old men who think they’re still working in an era where it was legal to specify gender in a help wanted ad.
The good news is that there are “more liberal attitudes toward women in leadership positions among those in younger generations,” and the gender divide is decreasing quickly among younger workers. Example: A female rabbi I know was interviewing for a job in a large synagogue. A male congregant stood up and asked, “How can you do such a demanding job as this one and take care of your kids?” A younger male congregant stood up and said, “That’s an illegal question. Don’t answer it.”
No matter what your business situation is, you should keep an ear to the ground about how people in other industries are changing the rules of management and success. There is a large and inclusive base of people who want a flexible and tolerant workplace. Align yourself with those people. You don’t have to do this alone, even as a priest or a rabbi.