How to Be an Ally to Female Leaders During the Pandemic

5 min read By October 1, 2020October 8th, 2020No Comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit all of us hard, but the early research (cited below) suggests that women and people of color are getting hit harder than others. In, Developing Female Leaders, I talk about the eight best practices churches can implement to better develop the gifts of female leaders on their teams and in their congregations. And during this crisis, God is giving us all an opportunity to stretch our leadership and become more inclusive of and true allies to the people on our teams who need us the most. Below are four ways you can help the female leaders in your life.

Be honest about essential workers

In “normal” times, men comprise the majority of the workforce and the majority of our leadership teams, especially in churches. However, the pandemic has flipped this norm. Essential workers are now what’s keeping us going, and 52 percent of them are women.

Please be honest: If your communications department is running overtime to transition your services online and launch a new social media strategy, are you paying them more or strategizing how you can give them a vacation in the next few months to offset the extra hours they have worked? As we begin to reopen, keep in mind that women are 30 percent more likely to volunteer, so start thinking about what you can be doing to better help your most essential volunteers. It is easy to take for granted the women who have served faithfully, but now is the time to be honest about their contributions and to value their work in tangible ways.

The Eight Best Practices

From Developing Female Leaders by Kadi Cole

  • Best Practice #1: Seek to Understand
  • Best Practice #2: Clearly Define What You Believe
  • Best Practice #3: Mine the Marketplace
  • Best Practice #4: Integrate Spiritual Formation & Leadership Development
  • Best Practice #5: Be an “Other”
  • Best Practice #6: Create an Environment of Safety
  • Best Practice #7: Upgrade Your People Practices
  • Best Practice #8: Take on Your Culture

Practically support the double-double shift

Families working and schooling from home have had to adjust many of their typical rhythms. While husbands and dads are stepping up to help at home like never before, women are still carrying most of the responsibilities for home and children, with an average investment of 71 hours per week. That’s nearly two full-time jobs in addition to their full-time professional work. Traditionally, we have called this the double-shift—working a professional job all day and then working another 6 to 8 hours at home. But now it is a double-double shift, and women are beginning to feel the wear and tear.

What can you do to help? First, acknowledge that it is happening. While almost half of men believe they do most of the homeschooling, only 3 percent of women agree.

Second, offer practical support. It is projected that 40 percent of licensed childcare providers will permanently close due to the pandemic. What can you be doing now to provide safe childcare options or stipends to your team, congregation, and community? If investing in the next generation is part of your mission, vision, values, or offering, this should be a top priority.

Be an early adopter of flexible work schedules

Most experts are predicting huge shifts in our post-pandemic work cultures. Showing up at the office every day with a fixed schedule is a thing of the past. Meetings will be replaced by direct messaging. Business travel will downshift significantly. Employees will expect stipends for home internet and equipment. Working remotely will force us to move from relying on physical supervision to building cultures of trust, respect, and transparency.

The good news is that flexible work schedules have been shown to offer several benefits for organizations and businesses. Not only do they create higher productivity (as much as one full work day per week!), lower costs, improve retention, and increase morale, they also nurture a more independent, flexible, and results-oriented working environment in which female leaders tend to thrive. It’s going to take some adjustments on our part to lead differently, but the sooner we accept this new way of working, the more women (and men) will be empowered to contribute in even greater ways.

Champion self-leadership

Since women tend to carry a disproportionate load between work and home life, it’s not surprising that during the pandemic 31 percent of women with full-time jobs and families report they have “more to do than they can possibly handle” while only 13 percent of men feel the same.

As leaders, it is critical that we model and encourage those under our purview to prioritize self-leadership.

Some call this “self-care,” and although I like this term, I find that when we are talking about supporting women, this tends to conjure images of pedicures and spa days. I’m talking about acknowledging that, as leaders, we are the engines. And in a long-term crisis like the current pandemic, our engines need to be operating at full capacity for the long haul.

The problem for most female leaders is the “Sticky Floor”—those internal dialogues and fears that most women battle in leadership. When female leaders grow up in environments (and almost all of us have) in which few women have leadership opportunities, we begin believing that we must continually prove ourselves to stay on the team. We feel we must go beyond the second mile every time, or we will lose our influence. Saying no or stopping before our work is perfect are not options for us. We already easily give up sleep, skip the workout, take on too much, feel guilty the entire time, and wonder if we are on the verge of getting fired. The pandemic has only heightened these tendencies.

One of my mentors, Lance Witt, often reminds us, “Self-care is not selfish; it’s good stewardship.” So talk clearly about your expectations for self-leadership. Give permission to prioritize basic human needs like sleep, nutrition, prayer, and relationships. Hold your team accountable if they are over-working. Dive into the real lives of the female leaders on your team and see where you can help. It is likely you have congregational resources at your disposal that could unlock their leadership productivity and reduce their stress levels. You might be surprised what weekly meal deliveries and a few hours of volunteer childcare can do for them!

The juggle is real. All of us are feeling the pressure of the pandemic, but the women on your team and in your congregation are probably experiencing it most deeply. A few simple tweaks to your leadership will not only help you today but position you with a more productive and loyal team tomorrow.

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