Partnering for the Gospel: Creating Environments in Which Men and Women Can Thrive

Ellen Duffield

Editor’s Note: This GWF2019 Advance Paper was written by Ellen Duffield for the Men and Women in Partnership for the Gospel Issue Network as an overview of the topic to be discussed at the related session at the Global Workplace Forum 2019 held in Manila, Philippines.


From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible records God’s plan for men and women to partner, according to kingdom principles, as a blessing and witness to the nations and exhibition of God’s goodness and glory. The workplace can foster a strong witness as we learn to apply biblical principles of holy and healthy interaction.

Beginning in Genesis, we notice that in each of the first five+ days of the creation account, God speaks, and it is so. In the creation of humanity, the language of the text changes when God says, ‘Let us . . . make them.’ Here we see God in conversation, envisioning humanity as more than one. We are designed to thrive in community, to belong and create places of belonging. Next, we see that humanity is formed in the image of God, enabling us to live fully into our God imprinted identity. We are created to become entirely our true selves, reflecting his image, and to build environments where others can do the same. Then, God gives humanity a job: the work of stewarding creation. We are created to contribute and to create opportunities for others to contribute in meaningful ways. We could draw this as a set of three sides of a triangle.

In Genesis 2, man and woman set to work, and it is good in God’s eyes and theirs. For a time. . . .

Genesis 3 recounts the disruption of this divine order. Community disintegrates quickly into guilt, shame, and blame. Alienation and estrangement enter. We learn to hide our true selves. The work that was given to us as a gift becomes backbreaking labor.

For thousands of years, creation groans under the weight of this distortion of God’s ideal. In his mercy, God gives the Law, but it alone cannot set us free. God sends prophets, judges, and kings—Deborahs, Joels, Davids—yet they cannot take us back to Eden. All creation awaits the Messiah.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection renew God’s kingdom. With it, the possibility of godly relationships in places of true belonging, the freedom of identity in him, and the gift of meaningful contribution through our work become not only possible; it becomes the work of Christian leaders across all vocations.

The New Testament describes men and women travelling with Jesus, sharing life and inviting others to follow him. Women and men witness his post-resurrection appearances and rush to share the Good News. Communities of people gather to worship and support vulnerable members of their community. Writers of the New Testament, under the authority of the Holy Spirit, scramble to capture the wonder of what God has done and of what is now possible.

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians offers one such depiction. In it, we find a model of restored relationships that focuses our thinking on the power of unity, purity, and mutual submission. Building on Jesus’ high priestly prayer, Paul reminds us how highly God values true unity. In an age of increasing isolation, nothing could be more counterculture or attractive to the watching world. This concept of unity contains many implications for men and women in the workforce.

The authors of the Globe Study—a massive research project that examines culture, leadership, and organizations across 62 societies—found that in over half the attributes and behaviors assessed, what one culture valued in leaders, was seen as detrimental in other cultures—ie, power distance, avoidance, individualism, assertiveness, etc.

However, even with conflicting cultural values, many ancient and contemporary cultures view(ed) leaders as stewards of the community and architects of belonging. In one study, thousands of respondents were asked about diversity and inclusion. One factor stood out across all demographics—belonging. ‘I feel like I belong at my company,’ was the choice most correlated to workplace engagement in every subgroup.[1] The authors concluded, ‘diversity takes you from zero to one, while inclusion takes you from one to ten.’[2] The correlation was even more significant for those who are underrepresented numerically.[3] People who feel they belong perform better, become more willing to challenge themselves, and are more resilient.[4]

For women, this value may be even higher. In one study of 21 career values, regardless of age, ‘the most significant difference between genders was the importance of social interactions in the workplace.’[5] A Roosevelt University study found that ‘a relationship-oriented climate’ was the number one factor in determining a woman’s commitment to an organization.[6] We have the opportunity to create genuinely empowering workplaces. The impact transcends employee retention, important as that may be, to include modeling biblical priorities and witnessing to the women who are watching.

Many Millennials, valuing fairness and inclusion, are quickly turned off by disunity, exclusiveness and anything that appears judgmental. Those wishing to attract, keep, and witness to young staff will need to wrestle with how to uphold biblical truth while creating places of true belonging.

God’s plan for unity works. One study of 64,000 business leaders[7] found that collaboration, transparency, inclusion, mentoring, and innovation are, as Jody Gentian Bower points out, ‘the weapons of the transformers.’[8]

Ephesians 4:3 commands us to ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ This verse suggests it will take both great intentionality on our part and real dependence on the Holy Spirit. Building true unity becomes even more complex across genders, generations, and cultures. Ephesians 4 uses the analogy of a diverse Body with dispersed gifts—every man, woman, and child—serving according to the grace God has given them until the whole Body attains unity, peace, and maturity. Speaking the truth in love and working for the greater good are resources in this vital work.

Many sources insist that when men and women work together, they create healthier organizations, communities, and even countries. In the 1990s, Rosabeth Moss Kanter discovered that a minimum of 30 percent women creates more balanced teams. Many studies have since validated this finding. In the year 2000, 189 countries optimistically endorsed the UN’s Millennial Goals to raise the quality of life in communities around the world. Vast resources were put towards empowering women and creating room for them at decision-making tables. UNICEF issued a major report arguing that gender equality yields a ‘double dividend’ by elevating not only women but also their children and communities. The Hunger Project proclaimed, ‘Women are key to ending hunger in Africa.’ Doctors Without Borders asserted, ‘Progress is achieved through women.’[9]

Meanwhile, Catalyst, an independent research organization, published multiple studies showing that ‘Fortune 500 firms . . . ranking in the top 25 percent in number of women board members generally have higher returns on equity sales, and working capital,’[10] with stronger than average performance correlating to three or more female board members.[11] A 2012 study undertaken by the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that businesses with women on their boards outperformed comparably-sized companies with all-male boards by 26 percent.[12]

Similarly, microenterprise non-profits discovered that when loans are given to women, they are not only much more likely to be repaid but also to cause systemic improvements in the whole community. Women, empowered by cottage industries, begin to address the social needs of their community and their families.[13] Schools, clean water, healthcare facilities, and other indicators of well-being emerge, while crime and corruption decrease. The implications are staggering. One study found that the status of women is a better predictor of quality of life for all than GDP, the conventional measure of a nation’s economic development and overall health. [14] Yet, women are under attack:

  • More girls are killed in routine gendercide in any one decade than people have been slaughtered in all genocides of the 20th century—aborted because of their gender, killed in domestic violence or honor killings, dying from complications from female genital mutilation, etc.[15]
  • While precise figures are difficult to determine, it has been believed for some time that up to 80 percent of the 30+ million people held as slaves today are girls and women.[16]
  • According to the UN, women are more likely to live in poverty than men.[17] In fact, women produce 2/3s of the world’s work hours but earn 1/10th of its income.[18] Girls and women spend 90 percent of their earned income on their family while men spend 30-40 percent.[19]
  • Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are women.[20] While the situation is improving, girls have equal access to education in only 40 percent of the world.[21] UNESCO’s research suggests that more years of education correspond directly with ‘better health, reduced maternal and child mortality, fewer disaster-related deaths, less conflict and increased civic engagement.’[22] Additionally, more education is linked to economic benefits, including both higher personal earning and higher growth for national economies.[23]
  • The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that in developing countries, only 10-20 percent of all landowners are women, but they make up 43 percent of the agricultural workforce.[24] In some cultures, women are still prevented by law from owning property or driving a vehicle.[25], [26]
  • Elderly women in the US are twice as likely to live in poverty as their male peers.[27] The World Health Organization believes that one-in-six older adults have been abused in the past year,[28] and women are more likely to be abused than men.[29]

The far-reaching value of balanced teams is continually at odds with the more limited opportunities, mixed messages, and subsequent lower confidence many women experience. This discrepancy suggests the need for intentionality in noticing women’s contribution and inviting their increased involvement. It also begs two related questions:

1. Does the fact that we are not intending to be exclusive excuse the fact that we are not intentionally being inclusive enough?

2. How can we create work environments where both men and women thrive?

Research indicates that meaningful work motivates women—a value they share with male peers. In fact, men and women share many strengths and values. However, some differences are emerging. We have discussed the importance of relationship-rich workplaces—a biblical value seen in Genesis 1. Support, coaching or training may be needed to offset the negative messages, additional challenges, and fewer opportunities some women have encountered. Cultural norms that have been exclusive or even abusive must be addressed.

For example, returning to Ephesians, we see the importance of purity when men and women work together. As Christian’s in the West reel from the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movement, nothing could be more countercultural or attractive than purity. Imagine the witness of workplaces where men and women treat each other with dignity.

There is a wide spectrum of possible responses represented in Christian communities—from men and women never being alone in a room together, to no formal guidelines at all. While organizations and churches must choose their own path, it is valuable to think through the messages and opportunities each position presents rather than merely react to past experiences, potential problems or the broader culture. Jesus broke social norms with the woman at the well but was still wise and above reproach in how he engaged with her. He simultaneously treated her with respect and inclusion, and created a teachable moment for the disciples, the woman, and ultimately us the contemporary reader… all while protecting both of their reputations and relationships.

Ephesians 4:24 reminds that we are, ‘created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.’ Ephesians goes on to say that as children of God we are to be imitators of him. As such, ‘sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named.’ Ephesians 6 offers the metaphor of a breastplate of righteousness that we must intentionally ‘put on’ to withstand the temptations of the media, our sense of entitlement, and the unhealthy norms of our culture. We must put on the armor to stand against the schemes of the enemy[30] who seeks to attack the purity of God’s people as a means to discredit us, God by association, and the message of salvation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the undermining of healthy relationships between men and women. Our breastplate—while referring to something God gives, must also include healthy accountability, a careful assessment of community mindsets and norms, and a culture that does not elevate leaders above the law or diminish the voice of the harassed and oppressed.

The Biblical metaphor of family is so helpful here. As we treat each other as mother, sister, daughter or father, brother, son (see 1 Timothy 5:2), we are more likely to protect ourselves and each other from temptation and from false accusation. This is critically important in a world where:

  • The sexualization of girls in all forms of media is an increasing problem, harmful to girls’ self-image and healthy development. It leads to anxiety, shame, and difficulty in developing a healthy sexual self-image; and is linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and major depression or depressed mood, the most common mental health problems in girls and women.[31]
  • A global study commissioned by Dove revealed that six out of 10 girls opt out of important activities because they’re worried about the way they look. Studies in Finland, China, and the US show that girls’ relationship with the way they look has an impact on their academic performance: girls who think they are overweight, regardless of their actual weight, have lower grades. Moreover, the negative impact of low body confidence continues later in life, with 17 percent of women claiming they won’t go to a job interview and eight percent missing work on days when they feel bad about the way they look.[32]
  • Although numbers are decreasing, every 98 seconds, someone in the US is sexually assaulted (90 percent of these are female).[33]
  • The average age of trafficked girls in the US is 12-14, and trafficked girls and women have an estimated 7-year life expectancy.[34]
  • The UN Population Fund estimates that between 2011-2020 more than 140 million girls will become child brides. If levels don’t change, that’s 39,000 per day.[35]

Returning to Ephesians, we see the power of mutual submission to address these issues. Ephesians 5:21 reminds us that family, church and community relationships fall under this umbrella with each choosing to give the other honor, voice, and opportunity out of respect for Christ and His Body.

Again this principle stands in sharp contrast to the world around us. Our stories about power—who has it and who doesn’t—are woven into beliefs and mental models socialized by gender, ethnic group, culture, and family. They form a frame of reference affecting how we experience others, the world, and ourselves.[36] Research suggests that marginalized groups, ‘tend to exhibit certain kinds of behavior; for example they will place a low value on their own abilities, prefer to avoid conflict, dislike one another… and appear helpless or overemotional.’[37] Consider how this is amplified for less dominant ethnicities or people of differing ability. Imagine the witness of individuals and workplaces that model a different way.

While Hofstede and others have demonstrated that diverse cultures understand power and power distance differently, it could be argued that the use and abuse of power undergird global workplace cultures. Those who intentionally model mutual submission and servant leadership stand out against the unhealthy models that predominate. As such they invite questions and provide the opportunity to share the true nature of the honor and the freedom we have in Christ. We have sought to demonstrate that the workplace offers a unique opportunity to model kingdom principles so that God is glorified, men and women thrive, and those not yet following Jesus can find places of true belonging, being and contributing. This is a high calling. May God’s grace inspire and empower us as Christians to live it out.

Pictures: Copyright 2016, Ellen Duffield

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Endnotes

  1. Ibid
  2. Hyon S. Chi, ‘New Technology.’
  3. Ibid
  4. 6 Ways, 7.
  5. Mary Field Belenky et al., Women’s Ways of Knowing, 45.
  6. Susan Stewart, ‘Men, Women, and Perceptions.’
  7. John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, The Athena Doctrine.
  8. Jody Gentian Bower, Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story, 239.
  9. Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky, xx, xxi.
  10. Lois Joy et al., ‘The Bottom Line,’ quoted in Helgeson and Johnson, The Female Vision, 23.
  11. ‘Companies With More Women.’ Catalyst.
  12. Mary Curtis et al. ‘Gender diversity and corporate performance.’
  13. See, for example, Allison Kooser, ‘Empowered Women,’ and Kristof and WuDunn, Half the Sky.
  14. Using data compiled by the United Nations and other international agencies in eighty-nine countries, this study conducted by the Center for Partnership Studies, equated the status of women with other quality-of-life measures such as infant mortality, human rights ratings, and percentage of the population with access to healthcare. Quoted in Linda Coughlin, et al. Enlightened Power, 27.
  15. Kristof and WuDunn, Half the Sky, xvii.
  16. ‘Report to Congress.’ United States, Department of Justice. Accessed July 23, 2018.
  17. ‘Summary Report,’ 11.
  18. ‘Introduction to the challenges.’
  19. ‘Invest in Girls’.’ WomenDeliver.org.
  20. ‘Facts & Figures.’ UN Women.
  21. ‘International Women’s Day.’ UNESCO.
  22. Chien and Huebler, ‘Handbook Measuring Equity Education, 2018.’
  23. IBID
  24. ‘Equal access to resources and power.’
  25. ‘Gender Equality in Land Rights.’
  26. ‘Saudi Arabia: Why weren’t women allowed to drive?’
  27. ‘Why many retired women live in poverty.’
  28. ‘Elder Abuse.’ WHO.
  29. ‘Elder Abuse and Women’s Health.’
  30. Dr. Roy Matheson of Canada first introduced us to the way Ephesians stresses unity, purity and submissive relationships, noting these are the very areas the enemy often attacks.
  31. ‘Sexualization of Girls.’ APA.
  32. ‘What is low body Confidence?’ Dove.
  33. ‘Scope of the Problem: Statistics.’ RAINN.
  34. According to FBI data.
  35. ‘Child Marriages.’ WHO.
  36. Carol Anderson and Patricia Shafer, ‘Deeper Power’ in Enlightened Power, 55.
  37. Ann Oakley, Gender on Planet Earth, quoting Hacker 1951, 11.

Date: 01 May 2019


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