[This post was originally delivered as a talk at the Faith@Work Summit in Dallas, TX.]
I’d like to start with a thought experiment: Imagine that you are about to meet a person for the first time and the only thing you know in advance is that the person is a woman. What words come to mind about that person? In your mind, think of a few adjectives that might describe her.
Now, imagine that you are about to meet a person for the first time and the only thing you know in advance is that person is a man. What words come to mind now? Think of a few adjectives that might describe this man. Finally, imagine that you are about to meet a person for the first time and the only thing you know about the person is that they are a leader. What words come to mind?
If you’re anything like most people, you would create three lists for these three individuals. And you’d have quite a bit of overlap between the words on your lists for “man” and “leader” and much less overlap between the words on your lists “woman” and “leader.” This was the finding of a study that was first conducted in 1973, and has been replicated over and over for the past 40-some years. When we think about manager or business professional or leader, we often automatically think of characteristics that are consistent with our concept of “male.”
If you look at the leadership and involvement within the Faith at Work movement over the past 10-20 years, you see a predominately male movement. You can see it here at the F@W Summit where we’re averaging about 4 men for every 1 woman. I’d like to talk about why this happens, why the faith at work movement should care, and what all of us can do about it.
Why should the faith at work movement care about gender?
I’d like to start with why the faith at work movement should care – both about gender within its own ranks, and as it ministers to men and women in the workplace. There are two answers here and they’re really very simple. We should care for theological reasons, and we should care for pragmatic reasons.
From a theological perspective, the first chapter of Genesis gives us a helpful framing. In Genesis 1:27-31 we read, “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
I take three big ideas away from this passage. First, God models work for us in creation. In making the earth, and ultimately in making humankind, Scripture shows that God is a worker. Second, men and women together are image bearers of God – “In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” And thirdly, men and women are called to work: Not only are we made in God’s image, and God is a worker, but God gives the creation mandate and commands that humans increase, fill, subdue, and rule – all various kinds of work roles.
So, TOGETHER men and women reflect the image of God, and TOGETHER men and women are called to work. If this is what God ordained in creation, we need to be sure that our workplaces reflect the value and input of both men and women.
When organizations operate this way, it works better. Companies with at least three women in executive management are rated more positively by their employees on a large number of factors including work environment, innovation, accountability, and motivation.
Companies with at least one woman on their board of directors outperform those with no women by about 25%. Companies with more than one woman on their board do even better, with one study showing performance outcomes of 40-60% better compared to companies with no women on their boards.
From a pragmatic perspective there are also reasons that the Faith at Work movement needs to care about gender. Frankly there are a lot of women both in churches and in business. Among 18-29 year old church attendees today, 57% are women. Interestingly, this is roughly the same ratio we are seeing on college campuses across the US today; among business majors this year for every 2 men graduating with a business degree, 3 women will do the same.
The F@W movement needs to be more intentional about including women in order to thrive as a movement.
Male and female God created them. Together.
God blessed them. Together.
God called them to work. Together.
We need to care about the opportunities available to women in the workplace and within F@W organizations. But the opportunities for men and women in many organizations are often not equal. Why is that? What challenges are unique to women in the workplace?
[Stay tuned for the other two posts in this series, addressing challenges to women in the workplace and what individuals, organizations and churches can do to help. Image: Shutterstock.]
Denise Daniels is professor of management at Seattle Pacific University.