The small pool of female youth workers

A male youth worker recently bemoaned the fact that he could think of only two female youth workers to invite to speak at an upcoming event. He told me how he believed it was important to have a female youth worker on stage for all the female campers to see and learn from (Never mind that it might also be important for the male campers to learn from them as well). Finally, he concluded by saying how difficult his task was to find one. In his words, “The pool of female youth workers is so small.”

On the one hand, I applaud this organizer for wanting to have some form of gender diversity represented on stage at his event, regardless of his reason why.

On the other hand, conversations like these discourage me, though maybe they shouldn't. Deep down, I know this youth worker's comment says far more about the circle of people he walks in than it does about the number of females actually in the pool.

Nevertheless, I know his perception is widely held. 

To that end, for those truly committed to gender diversity, I'd like to offer these suggestions.

1. Broaden your reading pool. Look at your shelf of ministry books and resources. How many female authors are represented? I'm guessing not many. So intentionally buy and read books by people who aren't white men. Not sure where to start? Here's my far from exhaustive list of female youth ministry authors:

- Kara Powell, one of the authors of Sticky Faith

- Kenda Creasy Dean, author of Almost Christian

- Ginny Olson, co-author of Youth Ministry Management Tools 2.0  

- April Diaz, author of Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker

- Elle Campbell, one of the authors of  Creating a Lead Small Culture: Make Your Church a Place Where Kids Belong

- Gina Abbas, author of A Woman in Youth Ministry

- Megan Hutchinson, author of  I Want to Talk with My Teen About Addictions

- Morgan Schmidt, author of Woo

- Melinda Denton, co-author of  A Faith of Their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America's Adolescents

- Brooklyn Lindsey, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Teenage Girls: Remembering Who She Was, Celebrating Who She's Becoming 

- Dorie Baker, editor of  Greenhouses of Hope: Congregations Growing Young Leaders Who Will Change the World

- My own book, The Jesus Gap, also released just last week.

2. Next time you attend a network ministry meeting, count how many females there are. If females are widely represented, your speaker pool just got bigger. Some of the females sitting in your network meeting are gifted speakers. If they're not, they'll be able to point you toward those who are. If, however, you're sitting in an all-male room, intentionally reach out to and invite your female counterparts to join you. Recognize that to do so, you may need to reach out to more mainline denominations, which have a tendency to more readily hire female youth workers.

3. Next time you attend a youth ministry conference, don't just go to the workshops by the well-known male speakers. Instead, intentionally attend a workshop by a female speaker – even if you know very little about her.

4. Better yet, intentionally attend a youth ministry conference that better reflects the diversity of the church. Because let's face it: Some conferences are far better than others at representing diversity. One that's exceptional at this is The Youth Cartel's Summit.

5. Ask us. Youth ministry women network. We know each other. So when you find yourself returning to the same two speakers over and over again, thinking they are the only two female speakers out there, ask whatever other females in ministry you know for suggestions. We'll happily point you towards other exceptional female speakers.

After all, even though the pool of nationally recognized female youth workers is certainly smaller than that of our male counterparts, it's bigger than you think.

Much bigger.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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