Women in leadership

[re-posted from the Wycliffe Canada President’s Blog]

Malcolm Gladwell made an observation in his book, Outliers, that the vast majority of professional hockey players at all levels are born in the first four months of the year. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that results from the fact that, from the earliest ages, kids are grouped by age. The biggest and strongest players, who are generally of course the older players in any group, get more opportunities. Everyone thinks that it will even out over time, but it doesn’t. More developed players get more development, and a handful of them make it to the highest level.

What does this have to do with women in leadership? Look at that last sentence again. Gladwell concludes that if you select a certain group of people early enough and continually give them development, you’ll change the composition of the group at the highest level. The fact is that leadership gifts aren’t identified in women early enough, and their development is often impeded when they step out of a career track to raise children.

My wife is one example. When Nancy Cochrane was recruiting us into Wycliffe 17 years ago, she knew what I was going to do: graphic design. But she had plans for Becky as well: management. Becky responded, “But I’m planning to have kids and raise a family.” Nancy responded, “After that.” Becky began to realize that Nancy was recruiting her for a role 25 years in the future. “Wycliffe needs more female managers,” Nancy concluded.

Like most mission agencies, Wycliffe has more women than men. I’ve heard that we are the “most educated organization in the world,” and more of our doctorates are held by women than men. But that same ratio doesn’t hold at the highest levels of leadership.

That’s why I was excited when I visited Abancay, Peru last month and heard that our partner organization AIDIA has someone specifically dedicated to leadership development among Apurimac Quechua women.

That’s why I’m excited to see that, as Wycliffe Canada begins its second Leadership Development Initiative next week, two-thirds of the participants are women. 17 years after Nancy said it, Wycliffe still needs more female managers.

Next week, we’re going to have a panel discussion on women in leadership. We’re gathering questions to ask the panel. What question would you add to that panel discussion? What question do you have regarding this critical topic?