St Paul's Institute

Women in Leadership: What Needs to Change? (Q&A;)

by Hilary Cotton

Posted: 10 Jul 2014

[As part of our July 2014 event on Women in Leadership: What Needs to Change? we asked five key organisations for their thoughts on where the focus should be and the actions we can all take.]

Q&A responses from: Hilary Cotton, Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church)

1. What needs to change?

Sexism to be as unacceptable as racism. Gender inequality to be properly seen as a dragging anchor on social and therefore economic progress, not merely as a women's problem.

Religion is gaining significance in society again - mainly because of extremism in religions. Alongside this extremism usually goes a requirement for the subservience of women. This needs to be challenged, rather than ignored because it is 'cultural' and therefore 'too sensitive' to be commented on.

2. How can we begin to remove the institutional and cultural barriers preventing many women from reaching positions of leadership?

Punish long-hours working cultures. Require positive action (not discrimination) eg gender audits, short lists to include at least one of each gender. Publicise good female leadership role models.

3. What can different sectors learn from each other in the fight for true equality?

Share experience of what works in practice in reducing gender inequality. If the Church of England would listen to other sectors which are miles ahead on gender justice, things might change more quickly in that institution.

4. How effective are the practical steps that have been taken, and what areas are still being overlooked?

Parents need more encouragement and economic benefit to share equally in childcare. Stereotyping of girls and women by the media, advertising and retailers needs be seriously challenged, as it seems to keep resurging.

'Everyday sexism' has been a great initiative: can it be expanded into 'everyday sexism in the NHS, schools, the church, the courts etc. ?

5. What actions can we take to create lasting change?

Educate each generation anew that women and men, girls and boys, are equally gifted, able, and have the capacity to do any job they are capable of.

Complain about sexist ads to the ASA. 

6. How is your organisation helping to bring about change?

Making the Church of England enter the 20th (yes, 20th) century in allowing women to be appointed to lead as bishops.

Re-vitalising work on feminist theology, thus challenging male-focussed theological and historical framework of Christian faith.

Offering a spiritual framework that honours and values both women and men as created in the image of God.

Growing feminist Christians, who want to link with other feminists to explore the deeper questions of life for women in the 21st century.

About this author

Hilary Cotton was elected Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church) in 2013 and has campaigned for women to be given equal treatment in the Church of England for over 30 years.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.