5 Things I’m Learning as The Only Female In the Room

June 17, 2024

I am not an expert. Some might say this is a horrible way to start an article, but it’s the truth. 

I am 29, a church planter, and have been lead pastoring for three years now. I teach and preach regularly as I co-lead pastor with my husband in a true 50/50 split. Many women who are 10, 20, 30, and 40 years older than me might say I am living their dream. 

Although potentially more women in leadership exist now than ever before, I often find myself the only female pastor in a room full of male pastors. 

As such, here are some things I am learning right now that will hopefully be beneficial to you whether you are a female trying to navigate a majority male space or a male pastor trying to understand the female perspective. 

ONE: Show up. 

Look, I get it. Being the only female in the room is daunting. But we cannot shift the culture if we don’t show up. Someone has to be the first. I am sorry that it has to be you, but someone has to do it. 

If you are struggling to generate the gumption to go to that pastors’ meeting in your area or that city-wide ministers’ lunch, just think about all the women coming behind you. Think about all the women who won’t have to be the only female in a room because you showed up and started shifting the culture. 

And if that isn’t a compelling enough reason, bring someone with you. Whether that be a male pastor in your area who has been a friend and advocate for you, another female pastor you might know, or a male or female employee or volunteer at your church with pastoral potential. New environments are always easier to navigate with a friend. 

I will never forget the first time I showed up to a local network of pastors in our area. My husband and I had just moved to Kansas City to plant a church. We didn’t know many people, let alone pastors, in our area. So we decided to go as it seemed like a good networking opportunity. I mentally prepared myself to be the only female in the room. Low and behold, I was. 

The conversations before the gathering revolved around sports, and with very little to contribute (I am not an expert in “sports” either), I began wondering if I was really wanted at this gathering. If the male pastors wanted me there. But despite these doubts, I continued to show up because I knew it was important, I knew it mattered. It wasn’t jjust for the women pastors coming behind me, but also for the professional mentors and personal relationships I needed as a minister. 

And wouldn’t you know, after two years of faithfully showing up every month, three other women joined our network. Then, I helped start and lead a network myself as the first female network leader in our city. 

Cultural change cannot happen if you do not show up and keep showing up, EVEN when it is uncomfortable … even when you wonder if you are wanted. Hear me: “You are wanted.” You are wanted by the women coming behind you, and you are wanted by the men, too, even if they don’t know how to tell you or include you, yet. 

TWO: Learn the skill of conversing. 

Despite what you may have learned or been told, you are not born with communication skills; you learn them. This is why they are called skills. And these skills have nothing to do with being an extrovert or introvert. Some of the best communicators I know are introverts, and some of the worst communicators I know are extroverts.

Thus, because interpersonal communication is a skill, you can get better at conversing. If you find yourself in a room full of pastors who don’t know how to talk to you, develop skills to have conversations with them! Here are a few tips:

Develop a bank of questions.

This is a great idea not just for rooms in which you are the only female, but also for pastors in general. Sometimes, it’s hard to have conversations with certain people or personalities. And so I have a bank of questions pinned as a note on my phone that I can reference at any time. This helps when you find yourself stuck in a conversation or reach a long, uncomfortable pause. I included a brief list here that you can use or modify to make your own. The key to this is asking open-ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no). 

    1. What is your ministry context? (This one is specifically great for pastor’s gatherings) 
    2. Tell me about your family.
    3. What are you reading right now?
    4. What have you learned by living in this city?
    5. What is your greatest challenge in ministry (or life) right now?
    6. What is bringing you the most joy right now?
    7. Or my favorite follow-up question: Tell me more about that. 

Side note: Asking questions about a male pastor’s family is a good way of building trust and getting pastors to talk about their families in pastoral circles. Ask him about his wife, his kids, their ages, their school, what they like to do together, the way they vacation, etc. If you have met their wife, say, “Say hi to your wife for me” before you leave. 

Be a good listener.

This is important for any relationship to succeed. When you ask a question, take the time to listen to the answer instead of thinking about what you will say next. Steven Covey says it best in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Work to really listen and care about the person in front of you, even if you are feeling uncomfortable or insecure. That is the only way to develop deep and meaningful connections. And look, the other individual may be a horrible listener. But that is okay. You get to demonstrate what it is like to be a good one. 

Shift the conversation.

Sometimes, we enter conversations that are impossible to engage with or be included in (see my sports story above). In those instances, we have to work to shift the conversation if we want to develop friendships and be known. Let me be clear: I am not advocating for interruption or the banishment of particular subjects. But rather, when a conversation for which you cannot participate has been going on for a while, there are ways to shift it so you can engage. 

For example, if I walk into a gathering of men and they have been talking about sports for the last 10 minutes, I can do a few things. I can turn to the person directly next to me and start a different conversation by asking them a question. I can ask the group if any of their kids are participating in sports right now and how they are doing (who doesn’t want to talk about their kids). I can ask who played sports growing up and shift the conversation toward current hobbies. 

Instead of ejecting yourself from conversations that you cannot contribute to, shift them. Conversations are how we get to know people and make friends. 

THREE: Speak up. 

This may seem contradictory to my advice on listening, but let me assure you that it is not. Although there are times for listening, there are also moments (a lot of moments) when we need to speak up. 

In Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goodsmith’s book How Women Rise, they discuss the phenomenon of “speaking while female.” Research has repeatedly shown that men have a hard time hearing women when they speak. As you can imagine, this leads many women not to speak or to incorporate accommodating behaviors like physically making themselves smaller, sitting at the back of the room, or speaking more quietly than they normally would. 

Can I just politely say, don’t? Don’t do this. Sit at the front of the room. Talk with authority at a natural, but loud volume. Open up your posture. Remain present, attentive, and engaged. And speak up. 

Your voice is needed in the room because the population you represent, women, is underrepresented. This does not mean we dominate a conversation (we don’t like it when our male counterparts do this either), but we must find a way to contribute meaningfully. Make a goal of speaking up and contributing one meaningful or thoughtful comment or question to the discussion. 

If you know the content of the meeting ahead of time, prepare one or more things ahead of time. Write them down so you don’t forget. And if you don’t have the ability to prep ahead of time, bring some paper with you so that you can jot down notes or questions to ask as they come to your mind in the meeting. This can help you feel confident in your communication even if you are suffering the effects of “speaking while female.” 

FOUR: Be patient with yourself and others. 

Not only do you have to learn how to be in predominantly male spaces, but men have to learn how to interact with you! Most of our male counterparts didn’t have a class in seminary on creating diverse teams, let alone have any female classmates. And if they did receive any formal or informal training on the subject, it likely taught men to fear any and all interactions with women. 

I want to let you in on a little secret, oftentimes men are just afraid of interacting with you as you are of interacting with them. So, be patient with both yourself and with them. There will be a learning curve, you will likely have some awkward interactions. But instead of getting discouraged by them, remind yourself that we are all just trying to figure this out. 

When an interaction is discouraging or even hurtful, don’t ruminate. Instead, think through what you are going to do differently next time or how you are going to respond to an individual in love and honesty should a situation arise again.

Another powerful, comically simple technique is learning to say, “Oh well.” Sally Helgesen, in her aforementioned book, says, “Oh well” not only helps you resist rumination, but it signals self-acceptance. It is a recognition that you are human, that others are human, and that we all make mistakes. It signals that you are ready to move on. And although this is not always an appropriate response to a situation (sometimes things need to be more thoroughly addressed), it can be helpful in many ways. 

FIVE: You do not represent all women, and that is okay. 

Many times, one will bear the unjust weight of representing all women in majority-male spaces simply because they are the only female in the room. Although it is an honorable and necessary thing to think about other women and advocate for them, the pressure of representation can be crushing. And it’s crushing because it was never your weight to bear in the first place. 

You cannot possibly represent all women, as your life does not equal the sum total of all women’s experiences. And that is okay. Furthermore, your male counterparts do not feel that same pressure related to male representation. Why should they? 

So, take a deep breath. Relax. Whether you are putting that pressure on yourself, or others are placing it on you, remember who bears that weight and pressure: Jesus, the one who cares much more about women in the Kingdom of God than you do. 

And then get to work by inviting more women into the space to alleviate the burden of being the only one. 

I am not an expert, but I am a guinea pig. So, take the musings of this guinea pig with a grain of salt. And hopefully, you’ll find yourself feeling more comfortable in majority male spaces. 

For my fellow male pastors reading this article, please help by making things just a little easier for us. Invite us to that meeting or pastor’s gathering, seek out women to converse with in all male settings, ask for our opinions in discussions and meetings, remember we are learning, too, and take the pressure off by inviting more women to the table. 

Cassie Ferrin

Cassie Ferrin

Cassie grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio with church planting parents. Knowing she was called into ministry from a young age, she moved to Springfield, Missouri to pursue a B.A. at Evangel University and an M.A. in Communications from Missouri State University. Cassie married her husband Alex in 2017.  Currently, Cassie is a lead pastor at Midtown KC Church, the church her and her husband planted and both lead together. Additionally, she teaches public speaking at the University of Missouri - Kansas City.  Cassie started a local network of women pastors called Women Ministers in KC and also leads a NewThing Network in downtown KC. Cassie has a passion to mentor and train young female ministers and to see both men and women walking side-by-side leading the church into the next century.
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