Gender equity is a key part of our Christian worldview, and yet there remains a persistent gap in The Salvation Army and society at large when it comes to opportunities for women. Editor-in-chief Geoff Moulton spoke with Dr. Kimberley Mullins about her role as chair of The Salvation Army’s new gender equity task force.

Dr. Mullins has a PhD in leadership and group dynamics and is currently completing an M.Sc. in business psychology. She has taught on gender in politics and society at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and on culture and gender at University of Northumbria in the United Kingdom. For most of her career she has worked to advance inclusion, learning and organizational development in large organizations, including the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil. 

Tell us about your connection to The Salvation Army.
There are so many things I love about the Army. I wasn’t raised in it, but I learned more about it when I attended church services with my husband’s mom during our visits. I was drawn to the active nature of its mission. The Salvation Army challenges us to live our faith through service, holding us accountable to be God’s representatives in the world. This has always resonated with me. I also love the fellowship and community, which are central to my experience as part of the church family at The Salvation Army Glenmore Temple in Calgary.

What is the mandate of the new task force?
The gender equity task force was established to support the Army’s efforts to create fair and equitable opportunities for both women and men to share their talents in the service of God. The task force brings together Salvation Army officers, employees, soldiers and adherents with relevant expertise to review areas of concern, particularly for women officers, and offer meaningful recommendations for change. We work closely with Captain Kristen Jackson-Dockeray, advocate for gender equity, who will lead the effort to implement those changes.

Our co-founder, Catherine Booth, always fought for women’s rights. What happened?
The Salvation Army was founded on a mission to serve those who were marginalized and excluded from other religious organizations of the time. Inclusion should be a central component to the work of the church, and I am proud to support that effort. While we’ve seen advances for gender inclusion in many areas of contemporary society, by almost all meaningful measures women have not achieved full equity. This is also true for The Salvation Army. If we don’t carefully examine ourselves and seek to improve, we not only fail to uphold Catherine Booth’s vision of women’s role in ministry but also prevent many capable individuals from giving their full gifts to God’s service.

What are some ways that women are overlooked or discriminated against?
Every individual’s experience is different. Some women don’t feel overlooked, but many others describe discrimination in varied ways and to different degrees. Sometimes it’s explicit, as when some women are actively discouraged or harassed for accepting work in maledominated professions.

A lot of discrimination comes from unintentional or unconscious biases we have about male and female preferences, abilities or responsibilities. Without realizing it, we make unfair judgments based on stereotypes about how women are “supposed” to behave. For example, some female officers have shared that individuals refer to their husbands as “Captain” or “Major,” but only refer to them by their first names. In other cases, it is assumed that women like cooking or wouldn’t want to handle financial matters. Although no offense was intended, it made those women feel like their skills were overlooked. These small examples lead to big outcomes when multiplied by all the experiences women have in society and in the Army.

While there are more women than men in the Canadian workforce, there are relatively few in senior leadership roles. Board chairs of Fortune 500 companies are more likely to be men named John than they are to a woman. This has nothing to do with women’s competencies or ambitions. Women leaders can have very positive impacts on financial stability and employee experiences in large organizations. Yet, compared to their male peers, women are still not considered for leadership roles, are scrutinized for their appearance and leadership style, and are held to different standards for their performance and behaviour. This is also true in the Army, where we have many women officers but few senior women leaders. We have work to do at all levels to improve equity.

How can Salvationists champion equity?
We all have a role to play. First, try challenging your own thinking. We can make a lot of incorrect assumptions about others. Instead of assuming someone would like to do something, for example, ask yourself why you think that. Did they indicate an interest? Or are you assuming based on a stereotype? Everyone wants to be seen as an individual and have their unique skills and interests respected. Pausing to reflect on our assumptions is the first step to offering that. The next step is to support others to do the same.

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On Tuesday, May 4, 2021, John Burton said:

I believe in equality between genders for employment or other types of opportunities. But can there be gender equity when it comes to carrying out pastoral care for both men and women? Can a male officer truly pastor a female person in an equitable manner the same as a female officer? I feel that there is a difference between gender equality with regard to opportunities versus gender equality in carrying out our tasks as pastors.


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