What is a nice American girl like you doing in a job like this?


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today I am pleased to introduce you to Wendy Grisham, publisher and vice president at Jericho Books, who was inspired by Mutuality Week to give us a glimpse of what it’s like to be a woman and leader in a male-dominated industry.  Wendy is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and the University of Warwick (in Warwickshire, UK). Before starting Jericho Books, she was the director of publishing at Hodder Faith, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, a division of Hachette UK where she published the NIV Bible, Brian McLaren, Philip Yancey and Tim Keller. Her previous work includes Publishing Director at Alpha International for Europe, the Middle East and Africa and Rights Manager at Random House, UK. Her favorite color is orange and she is known to have terrible giggle fits. Enjoy!

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Transient

When I started in Christian publishing at Hodder & Stoughton, I was naïve.  And blind.  And rather arrogant about the changes I wanted to make to the Christian publishing industry in the UK.  I’ve come to learn that arrogance and ignorance go hand in hand, and I have at times in my life been long on both. 

Like most of Christian publishing in the US, the UK is dominated by men – especially at the top.  On more than one occasion, I took my right hand and fellow partner in crime (if you will forgive the comparison), Ian Metcalfe, along to meetings with me (we were ace at good cop-bad cop – I’ll let you decide who played which role), and more often than not, the meetings were directed at Ian with the assumption that I worked for him.  

Now, I have never been one to be caught up in position, and I’m always quick to say I work “with” someone as opposed to saying they work “for” me, but after a few of these meetings, this can grate on a girl.  Ian, ever the English gentleman, always managed to steer the conversation my way and get the point across without being obvious.

In addition to this, I was regularly told that I was following in the great footsteps of one Edward England.  No one has ever, nor will ever, fill those boots in my mind but I hardly needed reminding of that fact.

So, I was a woman among men and not only that, I was American.  There were often times in meetings when I would look around the room and try not to think of the universities from which these personalities heralded.  It could be rather overwhelming for a Mississippi native and make her miss her mother, both of which are distracting when you are hosting a meeting.  The American part I learned to use to my advantage.  There is no end of outrageous things that can be said abroad in a southern accent that can be waved off with the excuse ‘you will have to pardon her, she is American you know.’  

However, it seemed that there was something unforgiveable about being a woman in my role.  The men were always in charge; the men always made the final decisions, and I threw that off balance.  You need only take a quick glance at the Christian arm of the publishing industry here in the US to see the same thing.  And what is most interesting is that this is not the case in general publishing.  New York publishing is actually dominated by women, and they do a jolly good job.  But, if you look at the largest Christian publisher for example—I believe there are six—there may be seven female vice presidents compared to the 30-odd male.  I don’t know how many serve on the board, but it would be interesting to see.  What does that say?

In my own house, I am one of two vice presidents in the Christian industry, and the other one is my boss so I can hardly say anything bad about him.  Not that I would if I could.  He is incredibly supportive.  But I wonder how many other women find this support.  In an industry where we know the majority of the end-consumers are women, and we know that the congregation in any church on a given Sunday is dominated by women, how is it that the men are commissioning and editing the books, then selecting what is made available, marketing and selling them?  How might that change if we let the women speak to other women through the industry?

Please hear me loud and clear - I love my brothers!  I love the work they do and I love the legacy they have created.  I get a kick out of working alongside them and bouncing ideas off of them.  My question comes from a position of – dare I use the word? – minority.  Perhaps it is this realization of myself as someone who is both a minority and not a minority that causes me to feel this difference so acutely.  But I want to ask, can we make room for others?  More women?  Other ethnic groups?  I’m willing to move over and squinch in a bit to make room for other voices.  Can we agree that what is missing might be filled by someone who doesn’t wear a tie?  

To end, I want to quote my late brother who was also a minority, the great Howard Truman (the italics are my additions): “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, sizeand national origin?  The question is searching, for the dramatic demonstration of the impotency of Christianity in dealing with the issue is underscored by its apparent inability to cope with it within its own fellowship.”

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I’m guessing there are plenty of women out there who could relate similar stories about what it’s like to be a minority in the office, board room, or church leadership team.  (I am reminded of Leslie Keeney’s excellent contribution to the Mutuality Week synchroblog, “Why Women Shouldn’t Give Up On the ETS,” in which she recalls how female scholars attending the Evangelical Theological Society meeting are often asked where their husbands teach. )

I could certainly share a few tales from the Christian speaking circuit!

What about you? Have you ever been a minority in the workplace or in a ministry? What was that like?

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