The head of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, sat with CEO's of major corporations on Tuesday, asserting that courage makes for a good leader, a woman leader at that.
Jefferts Schori was invited to participate in a high-profile panel at The Women's Conference – the nation's premier forum for women – in Southern California. The panel, which included Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz, former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy, and Disney Media Networks co-chair Anne Sweeney, addressed the question "What happens when women lead?"
As the first woman to have been elected to lead one of the Anglican Communion's national churches, Jefferts Schori shared her thoughts on leadership.
"I think a great deal of it has to do with courage. It takes the willingness to step out into the unknown, the willingness to challenge people to think in new ways, the willingness to try things that nobody's done before, and the willingness to challenge people to think bigger than their own self interests," she said, addressing 14,000 women.
It's been four years since the Florida native became the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. She noted, however, that some in the global body still have trouble accepting her leadership. She remains the only woman to lead a national body in the 77 million-member communion.
"My male counterparts across the world have a variety of reactions. Some of them are enormously welcoming; some of them laughed when they first heard that I was elected; they just couldn't conceive the fact that a woman might lead a church," she explained.
"We have conversations. They're not all deep conversations. It's still a significant cultural barrier in many parts of the church. In the United States, we live in a culture where women are increasingly welcomed into religious leadership but there still is a long way to go."
Debate over women in the episcopate continues to rage on in the Church of England. Conservative bishops opposed to female bishops have threatened to leave the church if the green light is given to women. This past summer delegates of the Church of England failed to work out a compromise between those who are against women leaders and those who support them.
Just ahead of that vote, Jefferts Schori had been invited to preach at Southwark Cathedral in London in June but she was not permitted to wear her mitre, a hat that bishops wear.
"Sometimes the rejection is overt," Jefferts Schori said Tuesday on the panel.
"I thought about that and said this is pretty ridiculous. I'm not going to offend the dean of this cathedral but I'm going to take my mitre; I'm not going to let go of this symbol of my office. So I carried it rather than [wore] it," she said.
"In some sense I created the response that I wasn't going to back down. You have to sometimes work around things," she added.
Jefferts Schori is the 26th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. She currently leads over 2 million members in 16 countries, including the United States.
The Women's Conference 2010 was led by Maria Shriver, wife of Calif. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Oct. 24-26 event featured First Lady Michelle Obama, Second Lady Jill Biden, former first lady Laura Bush, ABC World News Anchor Diane Sawyer and other famed figures.