Why Catholic women should strive for critical mass in the decision-making of the Church


What is the threshold when previously underrepresented voices begin to be heard and start changing the tone and policies of an institution? Maybe the United States Navy provides a lesson that can inspire Catholic women around the world!

In the Catholic Church, women’s voices are still severely under-represented at the leadership level. This is not only because some positions are reserved to ordained clergy. It is true also where laity – men and women – are theoretically allowed. The numbers speak for themselves.

“Some nineteen percent of Vatican personnel were women in 2013, about 750 in total,” writes Vatican-based journalist Gudrun Sailer, and “not a single woman [is] directing a papal department—a congregation, council, or judiciary.”

Things are not better beyond the Vatican. Martina Liebsch of Caritas Internationalis told us, that “of the 165 national organizations of the Caritas Confederation, there are 28 female executive directors.”

But change is perhaps closer than we know!

This year, American journalist Jay Newton-Small wrote this book in which she shows how women in various American institutions achieved a critical mass of representation that tipped the environment towards acceptance and appreciation of their contributions.

Newton-Small writes: “Turns out that women don’t need parity to change the culture and influence outcomes. While parity is the ideal, if women reached more than 20% of a group, life improved dramatically for us.”

“Substantial research – sociological, political, economic – showed that whether it was a legislative body, a corporate board, an appellate court or a Navy ship, if numbers of women were lower than 20%, women’s voices weren’t heard: either because they didn’t speak up or men didn’t listen.” This changed dramatically when 20 to 30 percent of women were included. When some of these women held powerful leadership positions such as chief executives, military officers or chairs, the tipping point occurred sooner.

And why should strive for the critical mass of women also in the Catholic Church? It is not a matter of power-grabbing!

According to Newton-Small, bringing women to key institutions in all areas of a society is not good just for the sake of the women. Women in leadership change institutions for the better of everybody! Their active involvement dramatically improves the ability of the institutions to collaborate and be constructive. Women are able to reopen dialogue and find common ground where “men were frozen in an ideological standoff.”

That sounds to us like something that our societies across the world urgently need! Tell us how you are working towards achieving critical mass for women in the Catholic Church! Become part of the Voices of Faith movement! Join us on Facebook and Twitter. Share with us your story! #AllVoicesCount

To join the Voices of Faith story-telling event, mark your calendar and sign up for regular updates here.