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Women and Leadership

Several months ago, America published an engaging article on women’s leadership in the Catholic Church. The article title was gripping: “Who Am I to Lead?”  That question captures the reaction of many women to the idea of offering leadership within the Church. “Who am I to lead?”

The reasons for this reaction surely are as varied as the women who express it. Perhaps they equate leadership with ordination and thus something beyond the role of the laity. Or, perhaps they associate leadership with certain administrative positions within the Church and consider their work in their parish and local community to be “service” rather than “leadership.”

Perhaps they are like our opening keynote speaker, Carolyn Woo, who says in the America article, that as a girl she couldn’t have imagined herself as a leader in the Church because of the lack of visible models with whom she could identify. While the Maryknoll Sisters who taught her had a lasting effect on her life, she herself planned to marry and thus couldn’t imagine a way for her also to be a leader in the Church.

This challenge is not simply one for the Church. A 2013 study by the Girl Scouts, “State of Girls: Unfinished Business Report,” found that only 39% of girls express a desire to be a leader.

The executive summary of the report suggests that a possible reason that leadership does not have a stronger appeal goal for girls may be because girls tend to favor a collaborative approach to leadership, rather than a “command and control” model. Perhaps girls do not recognize the variety of ways that they can exercise leadership with this collaborative approach. Perhaps the same could be said of women’s views of themselves in Church leadership.

One of the goals of our conference is to make visible the many ways that women are already offering leadership. By holding up models, we hope to shape the imagination of our participants, and the Church more broadly, so that we can envision ways that we all can collaborate together, women and men, laity, religious, and clergy, in leading and guiding the Church, whether in our local communities or around the globe.