A Woman’s Place

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Katelyn Beaty is the first female managing editor of Christianity Today magazine and founder of Her.meneutics. Her first book, A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World, was released on July 19th. Hear her story of what led her to write A Woman’s Place and why she believes it’s important for every woman to discover her God-given calling both inside and outside of the home.

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4word: You share in your new book, A Woman's Place, that your life took two drastic turns in one day. What happened, and how did that lead you down the path toward writing your first book?

Katelyn Beaty 5Katelyn: On a Friday in July 2012, I was offered the position of managing editor of Christianity Today magazine, where I had been an editor for five years. And on the same day, the person I was engaged to and I decided not to pursue marriage. So over breakfast, my supervisor offered me a position that I had assumed wasn’t available, and then over lunch, my then-fiance and I decided to end the engagement after months of conflict. It was a day of great loss and great opportunity.

I start my book with that story because it captures a shift in my own thinking about work and vocation. Before that day, I subtly believed that marriage and family would be my central or core identities as a Christian woman. That work had been good, but only up to a point. Now, having poured nearly 10 years of my life into professional work, I believe that professional work is also a core and positive source of identity and purpose for me and other Christian women. I wanted to write a book that gave other women permission to enjoy and find meaning in professional work and to pursue it alongside other important dimensions of life, such as family, marriage, and ministry. We don’t have to choose.

4word: 'A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World' is your first book. Why do you think it is important for women to discover their God-given vision in every sphere of their life, including personal, professional, and spiritual?

Katelyn: As Christians we believe that each of us was knit together in our mother’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139), and that in Christ we are given good works that God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2). So it’s a central priority to listen for God’s specific call in all dimensions of our lives so that we glorify him, bless our neighbors, and find purpose and soul satisfaction. Obviously that doesn’t always translate into getting our “dream job” or a promotion—oftentimes our calling will include sacrifice and suffering. But when “the world’s deep need and our own deep gladness” intersect, to quote writer Frederick Buechner, we are in our vocational sweet spot.

Beyond that, I believe it is important for women to understand that the world’s institutions and workplaces need them. Not only will individual women bring gifts, talents, and unique perspectives that undoubtedly benefit others, our world was always intended to be stewarded and shepherded by women and men alike. In the Genesis narrative, we see the “cultural mandate” given to both Adam and Eve, who together bear the image of God. So when our cultural institutions or workplaces are led only or primarily by men, they are missing women as crucial co-laborers.

(Click here to read an excerpt!)

4word: While writing your book, you gathered women together in cities across the country for conversations about women in the workplace and the church. What did you learn?

Katelyn Beaty 2Katelyn: One common thread I found among the 120+ women I interviewed was that professional women are longing for church communities that know what to do with them. It seemed that many of the women felt invisible in traditional church contexts that prioritized marriage and family. Many churches don’t know what to do with professional work, period, let alone professional women. In the book, I give many practical tips for church leaders who want to speak more meaningfully into the lives of professional women.

Another common thread I found was a desire for friendship across the generational and “life stage” spectrum. A lot of the women I met valued the church as a place where they could learn from women 10, 20, or 40 years older than them, and where they could befriend women with a different marital status, parenting philosophy, or sense of calling. Our human nature compels us to form community with people who are similar to us, but the women I met wanted to break through “cliques” and to glean wisdom from others.

4word: From your research, what challenges did you discover exist for women trying to reconcile raising a family and pursuing a career while following Jesus? How can women overcome these challenges?

Katelyn Beaty 4Katelyn: In the book I identify three common challenges for women pursuing a dual call to family and career. The first is bodies, the second is bosses, and the third is official bureau of lady judgment (and yes, I had to use an alliteration!). Bodies simply means the biological and physical constraints that women raising young children face. So, for example, the time in a woman’s life where she’s growing in her professional skills and networks is often the same window of time in which she can conceive a child, so there’s an inherent tension in the timeline. Bosses refers to workplace policies and cultures that do not offer paid leave or other benefits to women choosing to have children, therefore making it harder to come back after having a child or forcing a choice. The official bureau of lady judgment describes the way women divide into camps and fuel the so-called Mommy Wars by suggesting a particular way of raising a child is “the best.” I even quoted a passage from one of Diane Paddison’s blogs on ‘Mommy Guilt’ where she says, ““I know many women who assume ‘mommy guilt’ is a way of life.” I want to challenge that assumption. The Mommy Wars will end only when women choose to see each other as allies rather than as enemies. Ideally, churches would create communities that transcend the “working mom vs. stay-at-home mom” division.

To answer your second question: Actually, women can’t overcome these challenges alone. The dual pursuit of a call to family and to career has to start as a commitment between a woman and her husband, so that work-life balance becomes a family conversation, not just a women’s conversation. And we have to stop treating dads like babysitters. Beyond that, many church communities can encourage men to be willing to invest in home life and parenting so that their spouses might invest more at the office.

4word: What has been your experience with mentorship in the workplace? Have you had mentors, male or female, support you in your career at Christianity Today and as you wrote 'A Woman's Place?'

Katelyn: When I started at Christianity Today in 2007, there were no women in managerial or leadership editorial positions in the magazine, so all of my mentors were men. Their mentoring meant everything from feedback on my writing to advice on how to lead meetings to asking regularly about the book project. There has been no formal channel of mentoring, but I’ve been grateful to be in a workplace where men and women work alongside each other within proper boundaries, grounded by a deep sense of shared mission.

That said, I have longed for a woman mentor, to learn what it means to lead particularly as a woman, especially in male-majority environments.

4word: Why do you think it is important for young women to have mentors? How can women help other women pursue their God-given callings?

Katelyn Beaty 6Katelyn: The educator Marian Wright Edelman has said that “we can’t be what we can’t see.” In other words, if we don’t see women leading, we women won’t believe that we can lead. I believe mentors play an aspirational role for many of us. If we see other women leading our institutions and workplaces—especially in places where women are still a numerical minority—we start to believe that we as women could lead as well. Likewise, mentors often relate in a similar “mirroring” way to their mentees: I remember what it was like to attend my first board meeting, and here’s what I would have benefited from knowing in that situation. The strength of mentoring comes from empathy: identifying with someone else in their triumphs and struggles. For whatever reason, it is the case that we find empathy easier among the sexes than between the sexes.

We can help other women pursue their callings by intentionally creating communities of support and accountability. Again, ideally, this is already happening in the local church, but I’d love to see more women get really practical and commit to meeting once a month or so to share and to check in on specific goals. In those types of communities, others can often see things about ourselves that we can’t. It’s very helpful when someone says, “I see this gift in you,” or, “You’re really good at this, and you seem to really come alive when you do it.” I believe we can’t ultimately know or pursue our callings alone, as individuals. We are called ultimately to work for the glory of God and for others’ benefit, so we need each other in order to see how we fit into the bigger redemptive story that the Lord is telling.

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Do you, like Katelyn, long for a female mentor to walk with you as you navigate career, family, and faith? 

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Do you feel called to be a mentor? Are you looking for a mentor? The 4word Mentor Program is currently accepting applications for the upcoming fall session. Visit the Mentor Program website today and submit your online application by September 2, 2016!

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Katelyn Beaty is print managing editor at Christianity Today magazine, based in the Chicago suburbs. She co-founded the women's website Her.meneutics in 2009 and served as the editorial director of This Is Our City from 2010-2013. An Ohio native and graduate of Calvin College (BA, Communications), she has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post, among other publications. She is passionate about seeing women live more fully into their image-bearing capacities and gifts. More at KatelynBeaty.com.