At most workplaces, it’s more difficult to be a female than a male. If that’s you, that makes your job “normal.” That fact troubles me—and I hope it troubles you too. Despite amazing advances, workplace equity among gender lines continues to be a place of slow growth. The research is quite clear on that fact. No matter the field, women at work consistently get less: less opportunity for leadership, less income, and less respect. Say what you want about Jesus, but He would have none of that. Everywhere the Messiah went, the status of women was improved.
For men who say we follow Him today, there is a clear call for us to do the same: to use our influence, positions, and voice to elevate our female colleagues. Below are three ideas on how to become a greater ally for women’s empowerment in your workplace.
Before we go on, one aside we need to take. For many readers (especially those familiar with faith), hearing Christianity and gender equity discussed in the same breath sounds dissonant. Historically, there have been men who have used scripture to elevate their positions of power by relegating women to more subservient roles. Those confusing passages need to be wrestled with (plenty of that here), but it’s not hard to understand the person of Jesus. When He burst onto the scene, with Rome as the dominant superpower, women counted for very little. And yet He went out of his way to heal (Matthew 9:20-22), defend (John 8:1-11), depend upon (Luke 8:1-3), and cultivate friendships with females (Luke 10:38-42).
Jesus’ first words in the book of Mark proclaim that the Kingdom of God was near—meaning, in Jesus, we would see what it looked like to perfectly live under the rule and reign of God. Did Jesus come to earth precisely to heal gender disparity? No, but it was a beautiful byproduct of life under a good king. Two thousand years after the life of its namesake, biblical Christianity should strive to do the same. In our day and age, one of the most obvious places for improvement is on the job.
Some of the most up-to-date research finds that, on average, women earn approximately 82 cents for every $1 earned by a man. For women of color, that pay gap is even more pronounced, with black women earning only 68% of what white men earn. Incredibly, higher positions within an organization don’t always translate to more equitable pay. In 2019, women in full-time management, professional, and related occupations earned only 73% of what men in similar fields earned. And that’s just slicing the pie along salary lines. There’s still the fact that nearly 70% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in professional workplace settings; that only 13% of Fortune 500 companies have females in CEO positions; and that only 6% of board seats for America’s top 200 companies are occupied by women of color.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul famously asserted that everyone, no matter their position, ethnicity, or gender, were equally loved and valued by God. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female,” he wrote, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We have a long way to go until that feels true for women at work, but with the people of God leading the way, it’s not a reality that’s outside of our grasp.
How do we get there? In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus teaches His followers to do three things: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Those simple instructions, I believe, offer a perfect blueprint to becoming a better ally to our female colleagues.
You don’t know what you don’t know. And when it comes to women’s empowerment, most men just don’t know enough. So step one is simple: just ask.
Pioneering lawyer and advocate, Bryan Stevenson, says that problems won’t get solved until we get proximate to them. Meaning, if we want to change something, we have to get close to it. That means asking your female colleagues about their workplace experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Almost every woman has a workplace story—and some are quite painful. Therefore, these conversations should be entered into gracefully. Obviously, you get permission first (don’t just spring it up at the watercooler or between meetings). Listen well. And then listen some more. This isn’t the time for rationalization. Likewise, it’s not an excuse for workplace gossip. Rather, it’s an opportunity to better understand and empathize with the experiences of females at your place of employment. Did I mention “just listen?” Good. Keep doing that.
The only reason I know it’s difficult to be a female in my workplace is because I’ve asked. As I write this, I’m thinking about female colleagues who’ve told me about specific pain points at work connected to their gender. As I’ve gotten proximate to this problem, I’ve found myself more compelled to take action. But it all started with conversation, and lots of listening.
If you’re feeling ill-equipped for this type of conversation, here are some potential talking points to get the ball rolling:
- Would you tell me about your experience as a female employee here?
- What’s great about being a female in this job? What’s difficult or painful?
- Do you feel women are equally valued here?
- Have I contributed to any of your pain points? How can I be a better ally?
Hearing the painful stories of your female colleagues, it will be tempting to charge full-force at macro gender problems in the office—representation, the pay gap, hiring policies. There will be a time for that, but Jesus’ teaching says “seeking” comes next. What does that mean, exactly? It means before you try to change anyone else, seek to change yourself. What if you were the answer to gender inequality at your office? What would that look like? In order to change your office, start by changing yourself.
Seeking to become part of the solution could look like:
- Volunteering on a project led by a female
- Humbly ask a senior member of your team (who is female) to give you coaching and feedback on your work, efforts, or projects. Take notes about what she says and then take action on them
- Recruit more females to your department
- Make it a routine to include females in all decision making or small group projects
- Purposefully seek out the wisdom and perspective of females before making decisions
- Encourage the female members of your team
- Read the biography of a great female leader in your field
- Sign up for a training seminar led by a female
- Be the one to speak out against a sexist joke or remark
To change your workplace, seek to change yourself—and the rest will follow.
Finally, after taking time to ask and seek, you get an opportunity to knock. Believe it or not, it’s actually a more subtle act that you might imagine.
Can you even remember the last time you knocked on a door? Might have been a while, right? There’s a happy medium to a good knock. It’s confident, and loud, but not to the degree that it’s alarming to the people inside. Likewise, it can’t be so soft that no one knows you’re there. That’s what a good knock toward gender equity at your workplace will sound (and feel) like.
I believe this action will likely be specific to your office, role, or work environment. So before we jump into my ideas, take a moment to ask yourself: what would a persistent knock toward gender equity look like in your role? In your department? At your company? If you have an idea, go out and do that thing.
If you’re still not sure, here are a few ideas to get you warmed up:
- Volunteer to lead the charge on updating your company’s sexual harassment protocols
- Join a committee researching the pay gap in your sector
- Lobby your HR department for extended maternity leave
- Suggest a female colleague for a highly sought-after role
- Ask for more equitable representation in leadership teams or board rooms
- Give a less-experienced female employee an opportunity to take on a special project. (Opportunities and experience are gifts that aren’t always equitably distributed in the office. But that’s another article for another day.)
Not sure what to do?
Ask yourself, if Jesus had my role, at my company, what would I expect to find Him doing? How would He be engaging in conversation? What would I find Him pushing back on? Because, theologically speaking, Jesus does work at your company; He does run your small business; He does sit at your desk in your home office. At least, that’s what Paul says in Galatians 3:27 (“You are clothed with Christ”)… and in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 (“You are Christ’s ambassador”)… and John reiterates in 1 John 4:16-17 (“God abides in us”). Gender equity at work isn’t an impossible goal—look how far we’ve already come. But it will require you (yes, you) to get involved. But what if you ask, and no one answers; what if you seek, and cannot find; what if you knock and the door doesn’t open? What do you do then? You keep asking. You keep seeking. You keep knocking. The power of these actions, the power of God’s kingdom crashing into our reality, is it’s persistence—it never gives up.
In fact, Jesus told a story about this once. A person had a late night visitor arrive unannounced. Without any food to give the traveler, this person ran to a friend’s house and started knocking, looking for bread. It was midnight, and the owner of the home was in bed. He heard the knocking and yelled down to his friend, “Go away, I’m sleeping.” But the man at the door kept knocking anyway. Eventually, the homeowner got up and gave him some bread. Why? Not because he loved his friend, or it was the right thing to do, but because of the man’s persistence.
Your workplace, your job, your sector, it can be a place where God’s rule and reign begins to grow and flourish. You’ll know, because a great equity among your colleagues will grow alongside it. So don’t give up. Ask persistently. Seek persistently. Knock persistently. And watch your office—heck, even the world—begin to change.