I interviewed four women to gain their insight into issues surrounding leadership. I condensed significant points from these illuminating conversations.
What issues need clarity?
“Leadership is not a static quality that suits one type of person,” says April Foster, director of Others, a Salvation Army initiative designed to financially empower women in various parts of the world. She suggests that definitions of leadership need to be “more inclusive of the gifts that men and women bring.” Foster hopes that women will trust their own experience and recognize that their experience is valid and qualifies them for leadership.
For Lydia Mills, a health services coordinator at a private college and the corps sergeant–major at the Salvation Army’s Newburgh, N.Y., Corps (church), “leadership involves nurturing, instructing, and serving as much as deciding and demanding. Women often exhibit underappreciated qualities such as insight, intuition, compassion, discernment, focus, and consistency.”
Experiences in non–conventional leadership roles, including the home and neighborhood, equip women to lead in diverse contexts. While staying at home to raise children, Kris Hevenor shares, “I didn’t stop learning and growing. We need to respect the vocational choices that women make.” The newly appointed advocate for Salvation Army soldiers (members) in the Eastern Territory asserts that, in Christ, all work and all workers are sacred. “Everything, regardless of whether I’m in a position of authority or on the floor playing with a child, is holy and a calling.”
God calls and appoints women to leadership. Mills points to Ephesians 2:10, which says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works….”—as equally true for men and women. “Above and beyond any title, women need to seek and understand what God is calling them to do and where God is putting them, whether it be at home, at church, in a classroom or a boardroom.”
Women are key contributors and stakeholders in society, but institutions often fail to welcome and incorporate women as full participants. Hevenor notes that women constitute most of the Army’s attendance, membership, and service. They deserve affirmation, support, and empowerment. In her capacity, Major Yolanda Cortés de Rodríguez, the Salvation Army’s divisional director of women’s ministries and command secretary for Spiritual Life Development for Puerto Rico & the U.S. Virgin Islands, encourages women to assume responsibilities. However, Mills notes a complication in The Salvation Army: “Women’s identities as leaders are often secondary to their husbands’ roles.” Institutional policies are only a partial solution. Individuals play a pivotal role. Hevenor acknowledges that husbands must sometimes sacrifice for their wives to succeed.
We teach that all human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–28). Yet, even in organizations that value equality, bias and discrimination present real obstacles for women. Foster says, “That can take a lot of energy that is not used in developing the gifts and abilities that God has given, like we’re starting from behind.” Someone interviewing Rodríguez for her previous government auditor job asked if she was looking for a husband. She said that she didn’t need a husband. After working there for 15 years, she eventually earned their respect, but women often must prove themselves more than men.
What stories need telling?
Hevenor urges us to “recognize everyday women—mothers, sisters, and aunts who serve, lead, and testify every day.” Mills was taught, inspired, and mentored by several strong women local officers in the Salvation Army’s Harlem, N.Y., Temple Corps, where she has spent most of her life.
Through Others, Foster comes face–to–face with hundreds of women across the globe: “The everyday woman is taking care of family, being a compassionate neighbor, struggling against many odds, and working hard to see that her children have different and better opportunities than she had. Their stories are unknown in the wider world. Yet, in their own contexts, what they do is amazing. Any influence I have is not for my own voice but to open the door so that the stories of Others can be seen and heard.” Foster says that doing so helps the Army better understand itself. “Stories inspire us and challenge us to think about our own situations. These stories become part of understanding who we are in The Salvation Army, what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it.”
by Isaiah Allen