Fellows Reflection: Elevating women in conversation

Mar 08, 2021|Written By: Zach Sims

As I reflect upon my time thus far in the Fellows Program, I think not only of the time spent engaging with kids or helping with ministry, but the opportunities I’ve had to introspect as well. This year the Fellows have had an abundance (pun intended) of meetings, readings, and conversations with community leaders, experts, and friends on a variety of topics. These topics range from what it’s like to be a neighborhood leader, to the theological roots and significance of Communion across liturgical traditions.

Learning about group dynamics

One such conversation that exemplifies my experience thus far actually was our first roundtable event with Abundant Life Board Chair Laura Merricks. We kicked off the year reflecting on the role that gender plays in conversations. Laura presented some statistics showing that women are interrupted in group conversations at consistently higher levels than men. This problem extends into other aspects of communication and generally contributes to an atmosphere in which women do not feel encouraged to add their input nor comfortably be themselves. As a man who feels comfortable speaking in groups, this information greatly concerned me. We determined that it is our collective responsibility to ensure a welcoming environment for all to contribute. Beyond that, those with the most social capital in group dynamics have a greater responsibility to see this welcoming atmosphere through.

This information was all well and good, until push came to shove. As someone who loves to talk and processes information verbally, I tend to take up a lot of space in group conversation. Later in the semester, we learned that despite the conversation with Laura, the men in the group were still over-talking such that others did not feel welcome to add their input. I was distraught. I deeply wanted to make everyone feel comfortable and genuinely cared about what my sisters in Christ had to say. Yet I had not actualized this desire because I failed to sacrifice my own talking space to ensure that others had it.

Intentionally making space for women

Thanks to these sessions of open minded, group thought work, I have been able to work through and grow in this regard through the lens of community. By hearing more perspectives and input from women in my life, I’ve been able to challenge some key assumptions in my spiritual life, like my view on the role of justice in salvation. We’ve built a community in these workshops, meetings, and roundtables. Not only that, but we have created the expectation of collaboration and discussion through a plethora of important topics to my spiritual and social well-being.

As I go forward from Fellows, I anticipate my benefit from group dynamics to grow immensely as I specifically seek to elevate women’s voices. From my marriage, to my supervisors, to volunteer groups, to book clubs, ensuring space is made explicitly for women will not only ensure a welcoming atmosphere for all, but also directly improve my own experience.

Zach Sims is an Abundant Life Fellow. For more information about the Fellows Program and to apply, visit our Fellows page.

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