I grew up as the only girl with four brothers. From the very beginning of my life God was teaching me how to be a woman in a room full of men. I’m often asked, “You seem so comfortable being at the leadership table with men. Why?”
Truthfully, across my ministry career, I have been the blessed one. I have served with godly men—leaders and world-changers in the culture. I have been respected, valued, and treated as a valued ministry partner with the men God has allowed me to serve alongside.
That being said, I’d be lying if I said sometimes the reality that I am the only woman at the table doesn’t occur to me, tempting me to question my position, to feel inadequate, insecure and to simply want to hold back. Whether you are in the business world, on church staff, or find yourself on a team with all men, here are a few things I’ve learned:
1. Lay your ego aside.
It’s a myth that in order to sit at the table with men, you have to be extra-competitive, extra-strong, extra-smart, or extra-anything. It’s a myth that you have to win at all costs, prove yourself, exalt yourself, or be better than everyone else at the table. Jesus said to live you must first die. To be first, you must be last. Get over yourself and come to the table as a servant and only then can you lead.
2. You are a woman.
Just because I’m surrounded by men doesn’t mean I am one. You don’t need to lose your femininity to work with men. In fact part of what you offer is your unique perspective as a woman. You have insight and perspective that complements and adds to the overall strength of the leadership table. With that said, it’s probably not a good idea to burst into tears because you didn’t make your projected revenue for the quarter or you missed the deadline on a major project. Accept responsibility but also accept that God created you as a woman and has placed you in a place of leadership. (It is okay to shed tears over spiritual things or matters of the heart!)
3. Respect the men you work with—always.
Make it a rule that you will always give respect and honor to the men you work with not because they are perfect or always right but because you honor them as men God has placed in leadership. The culture is full of men-bashing. I will have no part of it. Do not cut down the men you work with either to their faces or behind their backs. Of course it’s fine to joke around (guys tend to do that), but know the difference between teasing and mocking.
Men need respect. That is true of our husbands, our sons, and it is true of the men we work with. When you show a man respect, you will earn respect in return. This doesn’t mean you won’t disagree. It is the opposite. When you do disagree, with respect, and offer another view or solution, you will be heard.
4. Don’t hold back.
God placed you in your role for a reason. You have something to contribute. If you have something to say, say it. If you have an objection or concern, raise it. If you have an idea, share it. The men you work with need you to be engaged as someone who partners with them for the overall health of the organization or team you lead. Have confidence that comes from the Lord. Be respectful but bold. Men will listen and your contribution may be exactly what is needed.
5. Toughen up.
Being a leader means debating ideas, hearing objections, arguing (sometimes passionately arguing) for the best in an opportunity to advance or a problem to solve. Don’t take it personally when your ideas get shot down. The goal is not that YOU win but that the organization or team you lead wins. When you make a mistake, own it. Don’t make excuses but learn from it. When you need help, ask for it. A good dose of humility always helps us grow and keeps us in the right position before God.
Make prayer a priority in your life. I get up at 4:30 most mornings so I can have that quiet personal time with God. I need to reset myself daily to remember what the gospel means. Time in God’s Word and time in prayer, allows me to die daily to me and to then live daily for Him. God will give you the wisdom you need to lead. “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
Also pray for the men that you lead with. There is something powerful that happens when you pray for others. God will give you His heart for them and it will show up every time in how you interact with them. The men at your table need you to pray for them.
7. You need a woman friend.
As women we are designed to be in community with other women. I am so thankful that God has given me deep friendships with other women who listen, encourage, pray, support, and also challenge me. They ask me the hard questions and hold me accountable in key areas of my life. There is a deep level of trust that allows for openness. Our lives are full but we need other women in our lives. Make room.