The gender debate is everywhere these days and there are great discussions about many issues facing women. As Christians, many seem obvious to us in how we deal with them as the Bible provides us at least some guidance. Other areas are less clear though. What about gender equity in the workplace? Once we get outside of church and family, the Bible does not provide clear guidance, so how are we to apply godly wisdom here?
First, in the interests of full disclosure, I am a complementarian. That means I believe that men and women were created with equal value and dignity. Their complementarity is found in their functional difference – we complement each other. I believe this functional difference is expressed in male leadership and authority – but I do not believe that functional difference in any way diminishes woman. We are equal and different. I believe this functional difference is seen in the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal and ontologically the same (ie they are the same in their being) and yet have a functional difference.
I acknowledge that there are other views of the man-woman relationship and my declaration of complementarianism is in no way a slight to my egalitarian sisters. Because we are sisters in Christ and we will all be worshiping together in heaven.
As a complementarian though, believing in male leadership, how do we view the gender pay gap? How do we view female leadership in the workplace? Does that mean we can’t be project manager, team leaders, senior managers and CEOs?
Lets go first to the gender pay gap. The pay gap exists for a number of reasons and so is not easily explained or swept away. But lets take some of the reasons:
- If a woman is paid less than a man for doing the same work, that is not an expression of submission, it is an expression of outright sexism and is not just wrong, it is illegal under gender discrimination law. Women are called to submit to their husbands – not all men. There’s a lot in the submission issue alone and you can read more on it here in a previous blog.
- Women tend to drop back or out of the workforce after having children. Partially that’s by choice as our priorities change, but partially that’s because flexible working conditions don’t exist for many. Without the ability to work part time or work from home, women are left with lesser paying jobs. Again, while I fully support women’s changing priorities in support of the family (I’ve done it myself!), I find many workplace responses discriminatory – which is not biblical. Women tend to “submit” in this scenario because they have no choice.
- Women still carry the bulk of domestic work and primary care of the children even when working equal days to the partner. Again, this may be a choice and I fully support that. I also know many women who wanted to re-join the workforce after having their kids and found that their male colleagues could freely move around for work because they had wives to take care of the domestic scene. Women don’t have this fall-back, and so become restricted in their ability to contribute.
There are many other reasons for the gender pay gap but what I think can be seen is that it exists because women are functionally and biologically different (we have children) and because we are emotionally and mentally different (even without children, we make different choices, have different values and respond emotionally differently to things).
That said, those differences should not result in a lesser financial value of the female workforce. And this goes for the secular workforce as well as in churches and Christian institutions. Paying women less, financially, in fringe benefits, opportunities or resources, de-values her work and de-values her person. It says she is not as valuable as her male colleagues. It says that her work is not as important. And this is not a biblical picture.
It does not overturn God’s created relationships if we seek equal pay and seek to close the gender pay gap. Equal pay is about equality of being, not her function. In fact, if we see this kind of discrimination, we should stand up for those women. This shows clearly that they are of equal creation, value and dignity.
How about women leading teams and being in management positions? Because this speaks more to function, this would seem less clear. The Bible only shows two categories for male-female relationships – father/daughter and husband/wife. There is no category for women and men in the workplace. However, in Carrie Sandom’s Different by Design, she helpfully reviews biblical wisdom that can be applied in the workplace. We are going to be lawyers and doctors and vice-principals and cafe owners and project managers. We are going to be team leaders and managers with men under our authority. We should not feel compelled to remove ourselves from these situations. However, how we conduct ourselves is key. We can apply the servant leadership that we see in Jesus. We can approach leadership with missional motherhood. We can interact with people with gentleness and humility that means we can fulfill our work obligations (and excel) but is supportive to God’s designed creation.
There are many ways I think we can apply this in the workplace. It takes some thought on our part to think through how it would apply in our context. It takes prayer and intentionality. We think often about how we are building God’s house in our homes. How are you building God’s house at your workplace?
This takes wisdom, humility and great strength on our part. But Jesus never promised that following him would be easy. At the same time, Jesus also never said we should be meek women without voices.
Many things occur because we think they might upset our biblical responsibilities. Many things occur because we have been told that they will. But this is where we need to be clear about what is biblical, and what is just discrimination.
Biblical wisdom and humility must be our baseline. God must be our guide. Supporting gender equity in the workplace does not subvert His created order. If we apply our godly obedience in the workplace, we can even amplify His created order. Because we will look different to the world. People will see Him in how we conduct ourselves.