Called to Purpose: Advancing Women in Leadership

by Abigail E. Peck

Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Hagar, Esther, Mary, Elizabeth, Phoebe, Lydia, Abigail, Tabitha. This is a brief list of the many women represented in the Bible who stood for change, living out God’s call and purpose in their lives.

On March 5, I found myself surrounded by like-minded individuals at the Advancing Women in Leadership conference held at Azusa Pacific University. More than 800 women and men from schools in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) came together for the conference, which included several keynote speakers and a variety of breakout sessions on topics related to women, leadership, mentoring, and more.

Like their biblical predecessors, the presenters and attendees represent agents of change in their spheres of influence, in higher education, and in society. As a young woman nearing the end of my college career, it was powerful to hear a variety of women’s perspectives presented at the conference, and it challenged me to cultivate my understanding as a woman who leads.

Ericka Walters, Ed.D., founder and CEO of Launching Legacies, presented in the first breakout session I attended. Her topic focused on “being well enough in our soul to lead others.” She shared, “Our gifts are manifested through the soul, so if our soul is wounded, our gift is hindered.” Weights on our soul such as rejection, boundaries, identity, and expectations affect the way we lead. Left unaddressed, these issues burden the leader’s soul, diminishing strength and leading to burnout. Walters’ takeaway reminded me of Ruth; if our soul is not healthy, we will be unable to lead well.

Later, author and keynote speaker Jo Saxton empowered us to embrace our identity and purpose through our God-given strength as women. In the book of Genesis, God uses the Hebrew word `ezer when He says to Adam, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make help for him” (Genesis 2:18). Often translated as helper, we sometimes overlook that `ezer also means “God-given strength.” Saxton encouraged us to embrace our inner strength and “stop apologizing for the things the Lord is celebrating.” As women—or advocates for women in leadership—it is our responsibility to inspire each other to unwrap our unique gifts and ambitions.

In the afternoon, I attended a breakout session on the topic of unconscious gender biases. Leanne Dzubinski, Ph.D., chair of the Ph.D. in Intercultural Education program at Biola University, presented her research, giving labels to gender barriers I had previously recognized but been unable to name. I was easily the youngest participant in attendance with little experience, yet it was moving to hear the stories of the leaders surrounding me. These professionals have dealt with significant gender biases in their workplaces far too often. Dzubinski created a space to share and come together to create solutions.

The theme for the day anchored on purpose. Keynote speaker Sarah Visser, Ph.D., vice president for student life at Calvin College, quoted Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Our purpose as followers of the Lord is instilled in us the moment we choose to accept His call. Echoing that sentiment, Shirley Hoogstra, JD, president of the CCCU, closed the day with this challenge: “Everyone’s purpose is to love God with your heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is the ‘how’ that creates the adventure.” The “how” may be a costly and disruptive path to follow, said Hoogstra, yet it is the one with the most fulfillment.

I bumped into a childhood friend, Hannah Clarke, a junior journalism major from Biola University, who made a profound observation that captured the essence of the day: “The impact of these women and men joining together is empowering others toward success in leadership,” she said. “Intergenerationally, we are invited to the table to have a voice.”

Abigail E. Peck '18 is a social media intern in the Office of University Relations. She is a public relations major and leadership minor.