Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has put together the most diverse cabinet in his country’s history. Not only does the cabinet have gender parity, but it features two aboriginal politicians, two persons with disabilities, and three Sikhs. It’s also the youngest cabinet than any past administration.
When asked why having a gender-balanced cabinet was important to him, Trudeau said, “Because it’s 2015.” My friend Michael called it “the mic drop moment of the political season.”
Predictably, there are people who are crying about quotas, and criticizing Trudeau for passing over qualified [white male?] candidates out of political correctness run amok. To that I say psssshhhh. For three reasons:
The wisdom of crowds depends on a diverse crowd. If you’ve read James Surowiecki’s book with that title, you know that large groups of people are surprisingly good at arriving at the right answer on things. (That’s the poll-the-audience option on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.) BUT, that crowd needs to be as diverse as possible, in order to correct for biases and blind spots. All other things being equal, Trudeau’s cabinet will be wiser than one in which everyone comes from the same background, even if that background happens to be exemplary.
It matters that people see leaders who look like them. My little niece saw a picture of Hillary Clinton recently and asked who it was. My brother said, “That’s Hillary Clinton, she’s running for President.” My niece stared rapt at the picture and said, “I want a woman president.” Ultimately Clinton will have to earn our votes, or not. But seeing people who look like you, especially when you’re young and dreaming of what’s possible for yourself, is huge. (And let’s face it, there are still plenty of old white men in Trudeau’s cabinet.)
It acknowledges that in a complex world, there is rarely a single “right” or “best” option. When people argue against, say, affirmative action, they often complain that the [white, male, whatever] candidate gets passed over for an unqualified or less-qualified [minority, woman, whatever] candidate. This strikes me as a very old fashioned notion. In a world as complicated as ours, once you weed out people who are clearly not qualified, you may be left with multiple qualified candidates, albeit with different skills and backgrounds. This happens in college admissions–if a school admits 500 students, there’s probably going to be very little difference between candidate 500 and 501. That’s an uncomfortable truth if you’re #501, but it’s simply the reality. The idea that there is one and only one clear answer seems very romantic, like believing there’s one soul mate out there for everyone. Eh. Not really. Instead there are flawed people who measure up to one another like apples and oranges, so you have to be rational and discerning, but ultimately trust your judgment. Or put another way:
@strombo Why do ppl have a hard time believing JT can accomplish this easily AND have the most qualified ppl in cabinet? #equality
Thanks to my friend Amy Hemphill for sharing this video, in which Jay Smooth turns a critical (side) eye to the Academy Awards. While this year’s presentation was the most “explicitly political” Oscars ceremony in years, the academy selections and nominees also managed to represent “the most exclusionary, white-ish, dudebro-ish” aspect of Hollywood.
Even if you care nothing for the Oscars, you owe it to yourself to watch this short 5 minute video. Especially if you’ve ever said to yourself, “I can’t be [racist/sexist/homophobic], I’m a good person.”
To that Jay says: There is nothing that does more to perpetuate injustice than good people who assume that injustice is caused by bad people.
The message is an especially potent one for those of us in the church, given the ways we both perpetuate the status quo without intending to, AND give ourselves a pass because we consider ourselves to be nice people who mean well.
As I’m putting this post together on Thursday morning, they’re accepting votes for the sweet 16. Some are a slam dunk: Radiolab beats Morning Edition—sorry Steve Inskeep. Some are impossible: Fresh Air v. Prairie Home Companion? What if you find them equally irritating?
Speaking of NPR, Radiolab’s Speed episode was excellent as usual, and my kids and I continue to monitor the pitch drop experiment. Any week/month/year now…
I’m humbled to be the co-chair of NEXT Church for the next two years. NEXT is a conversation within the Presbyterian Church that’s seeking to find areas of health and innovation in the church so they can be nurtured and propagated. You can access the music, liturgy and “ribbon ritual” we did at the conference from our resources page. Or watch the presentations here. And here’s our video. You might recognize a familiar voice:
The big question remains: Can women really “have it all?” I tend to categorize myself in the “something’s got to give” camp—multi-tasking and juggling can take us just so far.
…It seems like we are feeling more exhausted and guilty than ever before because we are constantly reaching for the unreachable. And research seems to back this idea. Studies show that women today are less happy relative to where they were forty years ago and relative to men.
So, where do we go from here? The answer may be in the way we are defining a fulfilling life or “having it all.”
I could write about this tension between ambition and balance for the rest of my life. Suffice to say that there’s a reason that this E.B. White quote is so beloved to me:
If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
How can you not love a book called You Can Master Life? Adorable. Anyway:
Gilkey [the author] cites a “Worry Table” created by one of the era’s humorists — most likely Mark Twain, who is often quoted, though never with a specific source, as having said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” The table was designed to distinguish between justified and unjustified worries:
On studying his chronic fears this man found they fell into five fairly distinct classifications:
Worries about disasters which, as later events proved, never happened. About 40% of my anxieties.
Worries about decisions I had made in the past, decisions about which I could now of course do nothing. About 30% of my anxieties.
Worries about possible sickness and a possible nervous breakdown, neither of which materialized. About 12% of my worries.
Worries about my children and my friends, worries arising from the fact I forgot these people have an ordinary amount of common sense. About 10% of my worries.
Worries that have a real foundation. Possibly 8% of the total.
Gilkey then prescribes:
What, of this man, is the first step in the conquest of anxiety? It is to limit his worrying to the few perils in his fifth group. This simple act will eliminate 92% of his fears. Or, to figure the matter differently, it will leave him free from worry 92% of the time.
Unfortunately Gilkey doesn’t understand that worry abhors a vacuum. Eliminating 1-4 will mean that we worry the same amount, just with greater focus… 😉
Sometimes good deeds make us feel good, so we do more. Other times we feel we’ve “done our share” so the good deed excuses us from goodness the next time. A brief discussion about the current research on this topic, which is scant, unfortunately.
Sendak continues to fascinate, even after his death:
Sendak made this book for those adults who had grown up with his stories.
This is a melancholy thought. In dedicating this last story to us, his once-children readers, he is marking the passage of time in our lives. He’s dated us. When I pick up this new book, I am reminded, as if I needed to be reminded, that I am no longer the ferocious, hyper-absorbed, small wonder of a Sendak reader I once was—nor, I’m guessing, are you. Had Sendak created another “Where the Wild Things Are” for us, would we even be able to appreciate it? For us obsolete children, as Theodor Geisel dubbed adults, it would be beside the point.
What makes this last book special is that Sendak is willing to meet his former-children readers where they are now in their lives—on the condition that they meet him where he was at the end of his. Kushner told me that he saw Sendak, toward the end of his life, eyes dimmed, hunched over his studio desk, pressing his face so close to the drafts that his dear nose was almost touching them. For his devoted readers, this tender proximity—this intimacy—may be the most affecting part of “My Brother’s Book.” The supple details are Sendak’s way of physically drawing us in, closer and closer, until we tap the page with our own noses: one last kiss goodnight.
And finally, some perspective. This was posted to Facebook this week:
I’m in Massachusetts until tomorrow, officiating a wedding for a high school friend. Congrats to D and D! (Hey, that’s handy for monogramming…)
There is still a tremendous gender gap in ministry. By and large, women are the associate pastors and solo pastors. Men are the tall-steeple preachers. (Men of my generation are very sad about this, and they lament it—sincerely, I believe—but will gladly move into those prestigious and well-paying positions even as they tilt their heads sympathetically and decry the patriarchy.)
I appreciate (and am convicted by) your point about men lamenting sexism while benefitting from it. As an ally, I wonder what the image for privilege would be. Leaning back? Or, as you point out, support is key. Leaning in together? Lean, mean fighting machine?
If my comment convicted him, then his sincere question convicted me: What would I ask of my brothers who are in positions of influence and privilege? That is an excellent question. Here are the first things that come to mind:
Don’t be a jerk. I guess that’s not very useful advice, because jerks either don’t know or don’t care that they are. But basic kindness and empathy go a long way. If you see a woman “leaning in,” don’t push her over. But don’t hover around, ready to catch her if she falls either. That’s annoying. And patronizing.
Name it when you see it. That thing where a woman makes a suggestion and it gets ignored, and then a man suggests it and people fall over themselves to praise it? It’s happened to me. It’s happened to virtually every woman I know. It’s nice when women aren’t the ones to point it out.
Advocate for decent parental leave, even if you don’t need it. Maybe you aren’t planning to have kids, or maybe your kids are grown. All the more reason for you to get into the game—it’s not personal. When I was pregnant with my second child, I helped the church I was serving put together a good parental leave policy, which they didn’t have. They were great about it. There was not a lot of pushback. Even so, it’s an awkward process. Help a gal out.
Cut the macho stuff. If you are eligible for parental leave and the situation arises, take it. See also: vacation, study leave and for heaven’s sake, days off!
Recommend us for stuff, and mean it. I’m not looking to move into a new call, but I appreciate that people put my name in for pastoral positions that open up. And don’t give up just because it’s not the right time. Someday it could be. (Don’t freak out, Tiny Church. I ain’t going anywhere.)
Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook has a new book out for women leaders called Lean In. It’s featured on the cover of Time, and Andrew Sullivan has had some good discussion about it here, here and here.
In Sandberg’s view, women are sabotaging themselves. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” she writes, and the result is that “men still run the world.” Ms. Sandberg wants to take women through a collective self-awareness exercise. In her book, she urges them to absorb the social science showing they are judged more harshly and paid less than men; resist slowing down in mere anticipation of having children; insist that their husbands split housework equally; draft short- and long-term career plans; and join a “Lean In Circle,” which is half business school and half book club.
The issues of women in leadership, especially in the workplace, are so complicated that I feel overwhelmed even starting to write this post. There’s so much to say.
It’s personal: some women feel resentful that the lion’s share (lioness’s share?) of domestic work still falls to women, and are working to change this. Others don’t feel called to climb the career ladder even if you offer them equal footing on it. Still others would like to stay home with children, or pursue a more leisurely career trajectory, but can’t for economic reasons—they may be the sole breadwinner, or their family depends on two full-time incomes.
It’s political: I love Sandberg’s Lean In initiative. We need to stop sabotaging ourselves and our sisters. But let’s also be honest and admit that there are still structural barriers for women. The Time article reports that the United States’s maternity leave policies rival those of Papua New Guinea, “a country that still has actual cannibals.” My dad gave me a T-shirt when I was a teenager that said, “A woman must work twice as hard as a man to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult.” That was some thirty years ago, and it’s still true.
It’s cultural: women who are competitive, who have strong personalities and negotiating skills, are viewed negatively in comparison to their male colleagues with the same attributes. The Time article quotes a woman who interviewed for an executive job and did not get it. When she asked for feedback on how she might improve her chances, she was told, “You could have smiled more.”
Oooh, you should see the smile on my face right now.
And it’s ecclesiological (if you’re talking about church leadership). There is still a tremendous gender gap in ministry. By and large, women are the associate pastors and solo pastors. Men are the tall-steeple preachers. (Men of my generation are very sad about this, and they lament it—sincerely, I believe—but will gladly move into those prestigious and well-paying positions even as they tilt their heads sympathetically and decry the patriarchy.)
Many have pointed out that Sandberg frames the issue from a place of obvious economic privilege. For a woman to “lean in,” she has to have the support and means to outsource a lot of the household tasks. That’s just not possible for a big swath of the population. Very true. Let’s acknowledge that, while also giving her the dignity of addressing the audience she wants to address.
A couple additional things come to mind as I read the buzz around the book:
Your partner matters. Sandberg argues that your choice of partner/spouse is one of the most important career decisions you’ll ever make. This is absolutely, positively true. I could not fulfill this dual vocation of pastor and writer/speaker without a supportive spouse who believes in me and the work I do. Seriously. (A friend of mine quoted the Christian Century article that reviews my book with Rachel Held Evans’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood. It says “Robert is a much more active presence… Evans tells us that she has an egalitarian marriage; Dana shows us what this look like.” My friend added, “Robert drops the mic – boom.” Dang straight!)
Leaning in is an internal issue and an external one. It seems that there are two issues at play: the way in which we do the work we do, and the speed with which we advance in our careers. Although they are related, I think it helps to separate them. I know women who genuinely enjoy being home with their children, perhaps while working part-time, and do not want to lean into a promotion or a higher powered position. More power to them. But they still need to lean in emotionally, with confidence, not shrinking or minimizing. In order for us to start changing the culture that says that an assertive woman is a domineering b****, everyone needs to lean in. They need to model assertiveness and competence, whether on the PTA, in part-time ministry, as volunteers, or wherever.
I recently accepted the role of co-chair of the NEXT Church. That was a leaning-in moment, even though it doesn’t land me a fatter paycheck. (Interesting fun fact: the two co-chairs of NEXT and its director are all women.)
And in a related point:
Meaningful work isn’t always the same as paid work. I need to say this carefully, because too often women leave money on the proverbial table, either by not negotiating or by not going for higher-paying opportunities. But someone recently said to me, “You seem to have set up your life in order to do the work that you care about most.” This stopped me in my tracks, because while I’d never thought about it that way, it’s true. I don’t serve a large church; I don’t feel called to that. I like being home most evenings. Driving the preschool carpool and eavesdropping on two five-year-old boys is a delight I wouldn’t trade for much of anything. And to be blunt, in the economy of our household, it makes way more sense for the IT professional working for the cyber-security company to lean in to traditional ideas of advancement.
But I get to write and be read. I get to speak to congregations and groups. I get to serve on the board of a fledgling national organization. And I get to serve a local congregation. None of that pays a lot of dough—some of it doesn’t pay anything. But it’s meaningful, significant work. And maybe when my kids are older, this work will lead to something that pays more; I don’t know.