Gender Roles in the Workplace
Men and women work side by side, wrestling with the same business challenges, attending the same meetings, and walking the same hallways. But as a recent Wall Street Journal article suggests, the common ground ends there:
“Men and women experience very different workplaces, ones in which the odds for advancement vary widely and corporate careers come in two flavours: his and hers… Data show that men win more promotions, more challenging assignments and more access to top leaders than women do. Men are more likely than women to feel confident they are en route to an executive role and feel more strongly that their employer rewards merit. Women, meanwhile, perceive a steeper trek to the top. Less than half feel that promotions are awarded fairly or that the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees. A significant share of women say that gender has been a factor in missed raises and promotions. Even more, believe that their gender will make it harder for them to advance in the future—a sentiment most strongly felt by women at senior levels.”
As Christians, why should we care about equity in the workplace? What does Scripture say about leadership in the workplace? How do we navigate the practical challenges of men and women working together in God-honouring ways?
Why does it matter?
From what I’ve observed, most Christian men genuinely desire to do the right thing. They expect women to be treated respectfully in professional settings and seek to honour their marriages as they interact with female colleagues, but they may not recognize subtle biases or cultural dynamics that hold women back at work. For others, the perceived cost of supporting women’s advancement may outweigh the benefit of shifting the status quo.
Speaking plainly, companies won’t see a more balanced workforce until the men that lead them see women’s contributions as essential to success. Like any diversity initiative, this isn’t about finding a token woman to serve on your board; rather, it’s about building a workplace culture that stewards the gifts of every employee.
Restoring the Blessed Alliance
You don’t have to look farther than Genesis to discover male/female collaboration at the root of God’s earthly design. Author Carolyn Custis James refers to this God-ordained partnership as the “Blessed Alliance”:
“What has the ring of something innovative and progressive is actually a remnant of humanity’s forgotten ancient past—an idea with primordial biblical roots that can be traced back to the Garden of Eden.
The notion that things work better and human beings become their best selves when men and women work together is found on page 1 of the Bible. When God was launching the most ambitious enterprise the world has ever known, the team He put together to do the job was male and female.
Adam and Eve faced a challenge of Mount Everest proportions that required a solid connection between themselves and their Creator. As His vice-regents, together they were charged with looking after things on His behalf—wisely to steward and utilize the earth’s resources. Their goal together was to build His gracious kingdom on earth. No square inch of earth is excluded. No arena of life is beyond the parameters of their joint rule…[God created a] Blessed Alliance between male and female. Having created his male and female image bearers, ‘God blessed them,’ then spread before them the global mandate to rule and subdue on His behalf. According to Genesis, male/female relationships are a kingdom strategy—designed to be an unstoppable force for good in the world.”
It’s common to assume this “Blessed Alliance” refers to the marriage relationship, but to do so ignores dynamic male/female partnerships throughout the Bible. Consider the examples of Esther and Mordecai, who saved the Israelites from a genocidal king, Aquila and Priscilla, who laboured as tentmakers alongside Paul, or Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, who funded Christ’s ministry. The alliance also flows through church history in the work of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, friends whose passion for Christ inspired Catholic renewal in 16th century Spain, or William Wilberforce and Hannah More, whose leadership of the Clapham Circle abolished slavery in England.
By losing our vision for the Blessed Alliance, we’ve allowed the enemy to diminish our collective impact. We compete rather than collaborate, and as the #metoo movement has shown, abused those God intends as allies.
Consider your own workplace:
- How would you characterize the relational dynamic between men and women?
- Do both genders have influence and authority? If not, what do you think keeps men or women from being more evenly represented throughout the organization?
- Do you believe it’s important (necessary?) to have women at the table? What’s gained or lost by pursuing greater equity in the workplace?
Faithful men, this article is intended to be an invitation, not a critique. We need your strength and influence to build companies where both men and women are empowered to fulfill their God-given potential. But how can you become an advocate? How do find appropriate, God-honouring ways to restore the Blessed Alliance at work?
1. Examine Your Bias.
We all have biases. Rather than denying their existence, identifying these underlying beliefs and the effect they have on your relationships is the first step in strengthening your collaboration. For example, briefly consider the qualities that characterize successful leadership. Consider your list–which qualities seem more male-type or female-type traits? How do your expectations for a woman’s leadership differ from your expectations for a man’s?
2. Dig A Little Deeper
Shifting relational dynamics at work can sometimes feel unsettling for men. For example, if you regard workplace relationships as a zero-sum game, seeing women advance may raise concerns that you’ll be left behind. Studies show that men think women are making professional gains more quickly than they actually are, a perception that could fuel anxiety or resistance. Some men worry that advocating for women may challenge masculine norms such as “avoid all things feminine,” “be a winner,” or “never show weakness.” Acknowledging the emotion that accompanies organizational change will help you turn to God for strength and insight as you restore the Blessed Alliance.
3. Seek Wisdom, Reject Fear
I genuinely believe most men want women to succeed at work. However, the fallout from recent scandals has left men uncertain about how to cultivate supportive, yet appropriate relationships with female colleagues. Maybe you wonder, “What if I cross a line without knowing it?” or “What if I’m falsely accused of harassment?” A misstep could cost you your career.
In Christian circles, this concern led to the “Mike Pence Rule” (formerly known as the “Billy Graham Rule,”) an attempt to avoid impropriety by choosing not to be alone with any woman who is not your wife. While the motivation behind this rule is honourable, it has unintended consequences for women–consequences which may go unnoticed by men adopting these policies.
The solution to this tension isn’t to self-segregate, but to pursue inclusive solutions to the problem. A few suggestions:
- Apply any rules you create to both genders. If you’re unwilling to work late with the women on your team, apply that policy to men as well. In this era of changing sexual norms, impropriety between male colleagues is as real a risk as impropriety between male and female teammates.
- Normalize meeting with men or women in highly visible locations or small groups.
- Beware of defaulting to all-male gatherings simply because it’s easier and “safer.” It takes extra effort to include women, but shifting any long-standing cultural norm takes work.
- Open your calendar and professional relationships to your spouse. If your personal assistant is female, introduce her to your wife and keep lines of communication between the three of you visible.
- Acknowledge the awkwardness, then move on. Don’t deny that sexual tension exists, that only encourages it to grow. Instead, establish inclusive, healthy norms and get back to work.
4. Act Now
Faithful men, you are uniquely positioned to exert godly influence at “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). I encourage you to act now in small, intentional ways to restore God’s Blessed Alliance:
Listen and learn. Don’t assume you understand a woman’s experience at work. Ask open-ended questions like, “What could our company do to create a more welcoming environment for women employees?” “How do you think female leaders are evaluated differently than male leaders?” “As a woman, what would you want the men of our company to know about your experience at work?”
Include and invite. The next time you plan a professional gathering, ask yourself: “Does this group really need to be separated by gender?” You may be surprised by the warm response your invitation receives. Recently, a couple hosting a table at our annual business event intentionally invited couples to attend, even if one member of the pair did not work in business. The couples raved about the experience, with many women commenting they felt inspired, even though their daily work was in a different sector.
Advocate. Graciously speak up on behalf of your sisters. Something as simple as “I’d like to see a woman added to this team,” makes a world of difference. Take an appropriate interest in younger women’s careers by offering constructive feedback or considering them for roles they can grow into.
Brothers in Christ, this article is intended to be an invitation, not a critique. In this unique cultural moment, may you embrace this opportunity to help men and women fulfill their God-given potential at work.
Called Together is used with permission from Joanna Meyer and Denver Institute for Faith & Work.