Women’s Leadership

While Hillary Clinton in 2008 tended to downplay the historic significance of the first woman President of the United States, this year she seems more ready to capitalize on that possibility. Her artful turning back of Donald Trump’s “playing the woman card” by listing certain “women’s issues” she would support and then capping the list with “Deal me in!” has been picked up by many supporters.

Jodi Kantor of the New York Times points out some upsides of a woman being elected for the first time: “The president would know what it is like to be pregnant. Top military leaders would answer to a female boss, when there has never even been a woman on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Workplaces and home life could be transformed through expanded parental leave and pay equity.”

But then, the reality check: “Or nothing could happen. The symbolism would be super-nova-level. The backlash could be withering.”  Of course, no one can predict what the possible election of a female chief executive of the U.S. — and particularly this female — would mean. Here are a few thoughts from my perspective in the Episcopal Church.

After decades of debate and struggle, women were ordained deacons in our church in 1971, officially approved to be ordained priest (after some “irregular ordinations in Philadelphia) in 1976, and Barbara Harris was elected as the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion in 1989. Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and first Primate in the Anglican Communion in 2006.

What have we learned? Well, first of all, that women’s gifts and perspectives have mightily influenced and greatly enriched the ethos of our church. I will never forget how the very presence of Barbara Harris (alone for some time and then joined by other women) absolutely transformed the culture and quality of discourse in the House of Bishops.

Stereotypical (but nonetheless often accurate) qualities such as a more collaborative leadership style, the actual experience of being a woman confronting the challenges and opportunities they alone face, and a more compassionate (dare I say “maternal” ?) perspective on those who are often neglected and overlooked have “humanized” our church and made us more open and accepting of all people. Less judgmental.

Does this always occur in the ministries of ordained women? Of course not. It is tempting and sometimes easier for them to join the “good old boys club,” to “go along to get along” in the career path they have chosen. But, by and large, I will say once again that the leadership of women in our church has been an enormous blessing and I am grateful to them, and their supporters and friends, who bore the heat of the battle to make their inclusion possible.

When Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop we got an opportunity to see a woman operate, in our context, on the highest levels of executive leadership. Overall, she provided strong, thoughtful, prayerful, and prophetic leadership during challenging times in our church’s life. I did not always agree with her, particularly some decisions she made with respect to the hiring and firing of staff and what I perceived as a certain lack of involvement and support for her team at the Church Center (of which, in total transparency, I was a part).

But whatever mistakes or blind spots she may have had, from my perspective, they had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she was a woman. Many other bishops (myself included) have made similar errors over the years. Katharine’s overall record as the Presiding Bishop of our church was stellar and I have no doubt that we chose the right person for the right time in our history.

I believe that much of what has just been said will apply to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Is she the perfect candidate? Absolutely not. Has she made mistakes and even errors of judgment in the past? You bet. Is she part of the “political establishment” in a year when so many are looking to “throw the bums out” and start all over again? Unfortunately, yes.

But I agree with our current President that there may have never been a nominee for this office more qualified than Hillary Clinton. Her experience is unmatched. Her temperament nearly ideal. Her toughness demonstrable. Her compassion lifelong.

In short, I would not vote for Hillary Clinton solely because she is a woman. But, because she is otherwise uniquely qualified to shoulder this enormous responsibility, I look forward with delight to the particular perspectives and gifts she will bring as a daughter and mother, wife and grandmother — but most of all, because she is a woman!



One Response to “Women’s Leadership”

  1. Annie Hochhausen Whitmer Says:

    I am more convinced after the convention than ever that she is uniquely qualified for the job! I am hopeful she can get a coalition and get some things done–for all of us. I’ve worked with many women in high responsibility jobs and I have been so impressed.

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