Dr. Nicole L. Davis: “I would coach and teach people to be free thinkers”

I would coach and teach people to be free thinkers, to be civil and learn conflict management and resolution skills, to live independent of other’s approval, to respect and value the humanness of others, to embrace the beauty of our diversity, and to spend most of their energy discovering who they are by honing their […]

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I would coach and teach people to be free thinkers, to be civil and learn conflict management and resolution skills, to live independent of other’s approval, to respect and value the humanness of others, to embrace the beauty of our diversity, and to spend most of their energy discovering who they are by honing their gifts and talents. I would encourage them to never settle, have standards, and to spend their days discovering the purpose (your life’s work) God has them on this planet.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Davis, PhD.

Nicole Davis, PhD, has a passion for family unity, women’s empowerment, and leadership development. She and her husband, Tony, have been married for three decades. She’s the mother of two adult sons and an ordained pastor. Professionally, Dr. Davis is a navy veteran, federal mediator and harassment prevention expert, and co-founder of Empower to Engage, a coaching and consulting firm. Through Empower to Engage, Dr. Davis and her husband, provide people with resources and strategies to create stronger marriages, families, and organizations through their training programs and workshops, mentoring and coaching services, and speaking engagements. They also co-authored the 3-book “Done Right” series: “Parenting Done Right Is Hard Work (But It’s Worth It!)”, “Marriage Done Right Is Hard Work (But It’s Worth It!)”, and Leadership Done Right Is Hard Work (But It’s Worth It!)”. These books bring voice to what the Bible says regarding family dynamics and the conduct of the individuals within them. In her new book, “Eve, Where Are You?: Confronting Toxic Practices Against the Advancement of Women,” Dr. Davis inspires women to understand what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) regarding their unique positions on earth and encourages them to courageously pursue God’s plan for their lives. She also calls upon men to uplift and advocate for women’s advancement and asks church leaders to confront gender bias head-on.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

As a woman, associate pastor, and marketplace influencer, I have come to recognize my value through much frustration, resistance, and being misunderstood simply because I was passionate, decisive, unwavering in my faith, and confident. For years I was clueless that the issue of gender was at play much more than the characteristics I listed above.

As a professional in the government, I’ve helped employees and managers to work more effectively together through education and training in conflict resolution, civil treatment, and human relations. While working in this arena, no one has ever questioned my competence because I was a woman. Likewise, being a woman has never hindered the effectiveness of my trainings, my consultation to managers and leaders, or my recommendations on how to address workplace challenges. My knowledge and experience have always been well-received.

To me, all the work I do is ministry, whether I’m doing this work in my secular profession or within a church. However, there has only been one organization where my gender has caused my competence to be challenged despite my track record of the results produced. There is also only one organization that puts a limit on my ability to have a voice to all members of the organization and limits my ability to obtain specific positions because of my gender. That organization is the Christian church.

As a Christian woman, I have experienced the impact of gender bias and discrimination even though I possess spiritual gifts, leadership skills, and ministry and work experience. I remember how I was treated years ago by the first pastor who ordained me. He told me he wanted to ordain me because of my leadership, godly wisdom, knowledge of the Bible, teaching ability, and my heart-felt connection with the congregants; however, he struggled with the proper title to give me. He felt the title of “evangelist” was more fitting for a woman, even though the title chosen was not predicated on my role and responsibilities in the church. It was specifically related to my gender. Only after I challenged the decision and threatened to reject the position altogether (directly resulting from his demonstrated male chauvinistic views) that he ultimately relented and ordained me as a minister.

Something similar would happen again years later. I was asked to serve as the director of the women’s ministry for a very large church. Although the pastor appreciated and accepted my counsel and ideas privately (as well as counsel from other well-respected women of the church), publicly it became clear, through his words and actions, that he did not value the gifts and talents of women equally as he did of men. He was not willing to acknowledge the contributions of women, by ordaining them with clerical titles and positions above that of minister, regardless of their knowledge of the Bible, their abilities to lead, their effectiveness in ministry or their great wisdom and experience in an array of disciplines. Even though I loved what I was doing, I ultimately had to leave that church because the impact of the unfair treatment toward women became unbearable for me. In my book, I talk more about the affect the latter church experience had on me and how it was the catalyst for my doctoral dissertation topic (“Women in Ministry: How Conflicts Between God’s Purpose and Church Practice Impact the Efficacy of Female Church Leaders”), and for the writing of my new book, “Eve, Where Are You?: Confronting Toxic Practices Against the Advancement of Women.” As an aside, I am happy to report that that pastor is now ordaining women pastors!

These slights toward other women and myself over the years has caused me, at times, to become disillusioned with the church. These personal experiences within the church have resulted in periods of my separation from the church altogether because of feelings of disappointment and rejection. I have repeatedly experienced and observed male pastors treat female congregants and leaders with less value than their male counterparts. In all honesty, it never made sense to me since the Bible teaches that we are all made in God’s image and likeness, for His glory and good pleasure. Additionally, it made even less sense when I would see many men with questionable leadership skills and character issues get elevated with the explanation that this type of choosing was God’s desire and the best qualified selection. Nevertheless, I believe that I am now in an excellent place to become more curious about how church leaders respond to women, and I’m less judgmental regarding challenges women face. My book helps explain the thoughts of both men and women about the role of women and it will help the reader understand where some of those gender-driven preferences and biases come from.

Through my journey, I have discovered that it is my mission to become a resource and an active contributor toward resolving this contentious topic to promote equality, unity, worth, and hope for better church relationships between men and women. I also want to support women in leadership and those aspiring to be in leadership positions, whether in the church or in the marketplace.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Oh yes! This work disrupts a number of things culturally, organizationally, and spiritually. First of all, I shred the concepts of groupthink, echo chambers and confirmation bias. I encourage women to be courageous enough to think for themselves and to make decisions that will promote their own health and wellness, not only the prosperity of others. Secondly, I challenge male pastors to reconsider how they are leading people. I implore them to have the difficult conversations around gender bias and to be willing to make changes that will serve everyone from the least to the greatest among them. Finally, I insist we look at how we have been interpreting the Scripture, especially applying culturally written context to modern day applications. How are we promoting quality of life for all members? How do we explore purpose and identity in the scriptures? How can we promote unity to advance God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? Real questions demand real answers IF we really want the best for everyone involved. Women are tired of the lip service. We can’t continue to ignore the negative impacts such behavior is having on those who we say we cover and pray for as pastors. The results aren’t adding up and the subsequent actions of women who are leaving is evident. What’s even more alarming is that many women who have left our churches are choosing to practice witchcraft and other religions in search of validation and empowerment by various other means. This should not be happening.

I bring awareness to the devastating effects of the status quo in how we select and ordain leaders in our churches. I expose the danger of relying on the good-old boy patriarchal systems instead of making decisions based on the prayers and competence of church members. I challenge church traditions that are cemented in the organized church used to keep women marginalized and under-valued.

The women are the ones who attend churches at much higher percentages than men. The women are the ones who finance missions and programs of these churches on a large scale. And the women are the dedicated workers and volunteers who keep everything going on a daily, weekly and yearly basis. If the women ever fully grasp who they are, it will be a game-changer in how our churches operate and in how they are staffed, and we will all be the better for it.

Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I too was brainwashed when I first started attending church regularly as a young woman. Since I didn’t see many women leaders as pastors, except for the occasional conference speakers, I came to accept that pastors should naturally be men. It’s not that I was taught that, but it’s what I saw. It was an unspoken rule. I remember telling people that I would never attend a church pastored by a woman. My basis for the comment was sheer ignorance. As a result of that belief, conforming like everyone around me, I became a part of the problem. From a faulty belief system, I realized that I made it harder for a woman who was choosing not to conform to the status quo to get the support she needed to fully embrace who she thought she should be. Whether a woman wants to be a pastor, a CEO, or an entrepreneur, she must first believe that it is possible. Secondly, she needs others around her who will encourage her and stand with her when she faces obstacles. Because of my laissez-faire attitude, I too was just another obstacle these women had to overcome. Now, I’m choosing to stand in and stand up for women. But not just any woman, only women who are integral, competent, and hard-working. I do not believe that we need women in leadership positions for the sake of promoting women. Rather, we need women who have paid the price, done the work, and believe they are the best ones for the job — all based on good character, great work ethic, experience, and interest — women of this caliber deserve an opportunity just like anyone else.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Yes, I can think of two such women who have served as mentors for me. One was married, the other was not, and neither one of them had children. The first woman and her husband are our sons’ godparents. This couple served as examples in marriage, business and financial success, partnership in love and life, and how to celebrate small wins. She and I have become really good friends. In my early days of parenting and navigating family, marriage, and career, she was a sounding board for me. She and her husband were consistent in their involvement in our sons’ lives, gave us breaks when we needed them, and exposed us to ways of living that were new and refreshing to me.

The other woman leads her own non-profit organization and has taught me the value of service to others. She showed me that, even when people don’t deserve it, it is important that we live and serve in such a way that we are able to dismantle defenses and stereotypes often had about strong and attractive black women. When you don’t know the motives of others, be intentional about making sure your own motives are pure and righteous in all manner of business and ministry. In both cases, my takeaway was to not get side-tracked or distracted by obstacles or challenges when working towards whatever you desire to accomplish. Instead, accept the challenge, figure out a way to overcome it, don’t let the challenge impede your progress…and do it all gracefully.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption for the sake of disruption is immature. It’s reckless and thoughtless behavior. We can choose our actions, but we can’t choose our consequences. Every act of disruption should be weighed because there are usually casualties or conflict that results, depending on who and what’s involved. Disrupting an industry or system is positive when it brings freedom to all. However, the acquisition of freedom should not be acquired at the expense of the freedom of another. No laws should be broken to possess freedom, but no one should be oppressed or displaced to enjoy freedom. We should always pursue civility, kindness, fairness, justice, and love. The goal should never be to hurt anyone. The goal should be to uplift everyone.

I want to be clear. I am not talking about equity. I don’t believe everyone deserves the same thing. I am talking about equality. Everyone deserves respect, and everyone deserves the same consideration if they meet all of the established qualifications for a position or an opportunity. If this is not happening in a system, an industry, an organization, an institution, a group, a program, etc. and these entities rely on the resources of everyone to thrive, change is necessary. In a situation like this, disruption is sorely needed, and my mission is to be part of the solution, not the problem.

My book, Eve, Where Are You?, addresses this very topic as it relates to gender bias against women in the organized church. Women are routinely overlooked for leadership positions, yet they are thriving in the marketplace. Because of this widespread discriminatory behavior against women, I’m on a mission to have the broader conversation that will help women 1) accept that God has a purpose for their lives; 2) understand that gifts, skills, and abilities can be used in church and in the marketplace; and 3) recognize the male-dominated church culture is hindering the advancement of women and is therefore hindering the advancement and relevance of the church in this generation. Women will be able to apply these lessons to advance in every area of their lives.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Three of the best words of advice I’ve received on this journey are:

  1. Parenting done right is hard work.
  2. You only have one chance to raise your children, but you will have plenty of opportunities to make money.
  3. You can choose your actions, but you can’t choose your consequences.

I can recall in earlier years when I was a stay-at-home mom, I was contemplating going back to work to bring additional money into the home. After my stint in the military, I had chosen to stay home because I wanted to be completely involved with my children’s development during their elementary school years. As I was sharing this dilemma with our sons’ godmother, she told me, “Nicole, you only get one chance to raise your children, but you will have many opportunities to make money. Parenting done right is hard work.” Because of that talk, which I’ve never forgotten, I did not take a job, but I stayed focused on what I had set out to do. That counsel ended up being the tagline for my and my husband’s book series some 20 years later, which we call, “The Done Right Series,” focusing on marriage, parenting, and personal leadership.

Also, I’ve witnessed the value of not making important decisions while emotionally unbalanced. I don’t remember where I learned it, but I’ve held on to it for a long time. When emotional, whatever decisions you make, be prepared to live with the outcome. In other words, don’t write a check your butt can’t cash! That’s another good one.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

My next move is to get my book utilized as a resource in seminaries, colleges, and universities. This book is somewhat of a hybrid book. It’s part scholarly, part expert book, part religious, and part therapeutic. It’s just a good tool for critical thinking, it provides education and awareness regarding social issues, and it’s a great guide for practical living. It can also be used to help prepare our leaders of tomorrow, both men and women, and to invite intelligent dialogue around the topic of women leadership both in church and in the marketplace as we work to progress spiritually, socially, and culturally around the world. Ultimately, the book will impact marriages and families as well. Men and women will have ongoing discussions about the value, gifts and desires of their wives. Similarly, parents of daughters may have different discussions about the paths available for their daughters who will eventually become mothers and professionals.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think some of the challenges women disruptors face is that we are not resourced in the same way men are. We are not financially backed at a large enough rate or high enough scale where we can focus on the mission solely and not be concerned about how we’re going to get our message out there. Our women are also not supported by her male counterparts in great numbers. One or two may come alongside us or secretly let us know they support what we’re doing, but we don’t have the broad backing that could be advantageous in changing the paradigm about championing women leaders anywhere and everywhere. Also, all women disruptors are not created equal, yet we are all characterized as feminist, angry, bitter, or man-haters if we are hard-charging, confident, and assertive. Just for the record, I’m none of these derogative terms.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

The Bible has had the most profound impact on my thinking. I’ve been reading the Bible for over 30 years. My life has been dramatically changed as a result of it. The way I think, live, love, work, establish relationships, pursue peace, forgive and ask for forgiveness, show compassion, establish boundaries, and live with standards all come directly from the Bible. It’s how I’m able to have a strong marriage, great relationships with our sons, and stay grateful and humble every day. I grew up in a single-family home. My father was an alcoholic, a drug user, and in and out of jail. My mother was emotionally despondent and distant. I had no stability, no sense of direction, and I lived recklessly. It was the Bible and my relationship with God that transformed my life. I talk more about the impact of the Bible in my life in my new book.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would coach and teach people to be free thinkers, to be civil and learn conflict management and resolution skills, to live independent of other’s approval, to respect and value the humanness of others, to embrace the beauty of our diversity, and to spend most of their energy discovering who they are by honing their gifts and talents. I would encourage them to never settle, have standards, and to spend their days discovering the purpose (your life’s work) God has them on this planet.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My life lesson quote is a West African proverb: “The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people. I reference this quote often. It reminds me of my and my husband’s responsibility and obligation to teach and live in a way that demonstrates to our sons what it means to show love and affection in a healthy way, to be respectful to those in authority, the importance of understanding community and giving back, to work hard work and be accountable, to share and give to show care for others, and to revere God as our Creator and Sustainer. From our example, they too must live in a responsible and exemplary way for others to follow. Through this chain of love and service, we can create the family, the neighborhood, the community, the city, the nation, and the world that we want to live in. We should strive to be respectful and productive members of society and that kind of learning starts at home.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow me various ways:

Websites: www.empowertoengage.com; www.evewhereareyou.com

Social Media (FB/IG): @empowertoengage; @evewhereareyou

Podcast: Eve, Where Are You? (all platforms)

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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