I can relate to this question as I joined the church in my twenties as a bright professional woman. Joining the church, however, does not have to do with ambition, human plans, or desire to serve in particular positions. The covenant of baptism is based on a witness that Jesus Christ is her Savior and that He, with Heavenly Father, restored his church through Joseph Smith.
After baptism, the questions become (1) how can you best serve? and (2) does the structure of the church enable and magnify the talents of each of its members so as to best build the Kingdom of God?
We easily overlay church service with our experiences in the world, where prominence and title indicate success. The scriptures dissuade us of that notion. As Jesus said to His disciples, “he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.” Luke 22:26-27.
Ammon, from the Book of Mormon, is a great example of this. Not only did he tend Lamoni’s sheep and horses, after meeting Lamoni’s father and being given the opportunity to convert the king of all the lands, he did not seize this opportunity, because “the Spirit of the Lord ha[d] called him another way” Alma 22:4. Each of us has the opportunity to serve in the church. The prominence of the calling truly doesn’t matter. What matters is our willingness to serve and be open to the Spirit of the Lord as we do so.
The second question is a more complicated one. I know men who would make excellent primary presidents, and women who would be great financial clerks, but currently the structure of the Church does not enable them to serve in those callings. I don’t fully understand why this is, and I think that some of these rules limit the Church’s full potential. But I don’t think that these limitations hinder an individual’s the potential or development, so long as we each heed the Spirit of the Lord as we serve where called.
When I was considering joining the church, I was concerned that by becoming part of this church community I would need to conform to a particular mold of women (which I perceived to be largely stay at home moms). I got the great advice that I did not need to change who I was, but rather bring my full self to contribute to the church. I also realized that there is not a particular mold of LDS woman, but rather, each person brings diverse experiences and a unique perspective to the church. The belief in continuing revelation that brought me to baptism also provides me hope and assurance that the Church will evolve and change to serve the Lord’s purpose over time.
From Mehrsa, Law professor, mom of three
I actually think this might be a great opportunity rather than a problem for your convert friend and for the church as a whole. Many of the church's problems with women are cultural baggage. She comes in with none of that and can create her own space here. Most wards I've been in give converts a lot of leeway to do that. Being a convert (and a perpetual outsider) myself, I have felt much more freedom than my traditional mormon friends. Part of it is that I've given myself freedom, but I think people in my many wards have given me more space. We are a friendly people to outsiders (for the most part). She should be prepared for the sexism she will no doubt encounter, but I think as more smart, professional women come in and ask for space and power, this can be a benefit to all of us "insiders" to ask for it too. It's much easier for outsiders to do this.
As female members and lay ministers, Mormon women have more opportunities to preach, teach, minister, and perform & participate in ordinances than any other religion of which I am aware. All women have the opportunity, from age 3 until death to teach and preach from the pulpit in the capacity of formal teachers, member witnesses, volunteers, formal speakers, counselors, matrons, missionaries, and/or presidents, in at least ten differing contexts throughout a woman's life.
I personally have preached and taught Sunday school to Primary children, Young Women, Relief Society sisters, entire congregations of men, women, and children, including world-renown professors at Yale University and hundreds of male High Priests (and their wives) at an annual Stake meeting. I have also been given full reign at firesides to preach to hundreds of men and women through inspiration word and song, much like I imagine my evangelical peers doing.
My voice has never been silenced at church, nor have I ever felt excluded from opportunities to lead or preach. I attribute much of my success in show business to my upbringing by deeply devoted parents in the Mormon church and the weekly opportunities it allowed me to memorize, recite, and teach song and word in front of up to hundreds of people in ways that ultimately groomed me, with the help of my parents, teachers, and mentors within the Church, to win a Tony Award and a Grammy Nomination in my early twenties and thirties.
In Christ's church there are jobs for everyone, male and female, young and old, and each must be "called of God." The "callings" Mormon women receive are inspired, accompanied by blessings of empowerment and encouragement. No one, male or female, "aspires" to a calling - callings are "inspired" not "aspired" to. Bishops do not "aspire" to be Bishops, and Relief Society presidents, local or General, do not "aspire" to be to presidents. Inspiration for callings comes as a result of both prayer and input from both male and female leaders in the church, and each calling is confirmed in the heart of the called and may be rejected or accepted based on personal inspiration and desire. Nothing is forced, and no calling is more important than another - each, as Christ said, is vital to the functioning of the church. Some are accompanied by more breadth of stewardship, more hours of work, more attendance at meetings, more administration, coordination, and delegation than others (like being Bishops, Relief Society presidents, or full-time missionaries), but all allow the same privileges of holy experiences with the Spirit and gifts of the spirit, holy experiences with a mantle of authority and the inspiration that accompanies it, holy experiences with sacrifice and obedience, holy experiences teaching the Gospel, working, loving, and serving others. Isn't this what counts most? Isn't this what the Gospel is about? I believe a full-time female missionary in the Church is privy to the same kinds of practical experience as a Bishop running a congregation, albeit on a smaller scale. I don't believe I am missing out or have missed out an anything as a woman with ambition in the Church, and all women have equal access to these opportunities as desired.