Gender Equality: Biblical and Pragmatic Wisdom for the Workplace

Have you got any advice for me concerning HR issues that involve a clash of cultural or Biblical values? I want to pay my workers equally for doing the same job and in Nepal where I run my business, men and women don’t usually receive equal pay. It’s not so much an ethical dilemma for me, but a practical question about how I can approach this well. How do I best communicate and lead my Nepali team through this issue?

I want to humbly submit that the issue here runs deeper than that of pay equality, I believe the root of this issue speaks to gender equality within the workplace and whether we as Christ followers believe it is a biblical value that we are charged to uphold. As a woman who has had a long career in the workplace, I have to say my experience has not always been positive, even with my male co-workers of faith. As people conducting business in a second culture, by all means we must be culturally sensitive, but we must recognize the mandates of our Lord have been corrupted by culture, and we know Jesus came to make all things new. To me, one of the most personal personifications of this ideal was in His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jews did condescend to speak with Samaritans in public, and male Jews were rabbinically prohibited from speaking with women in public to eliminate opportunity for gossip. Yet this beautiful narrative provides a clear example of how He wants us to step outside the boundaries of culture to engage with our world in a restorative manner.

Our lives and how we operate our businesses should speak into the lives of our employees in ways they have never experienced; to lift them up, to value them for their contribution to the business, to recognize their inherent worth as uniquely created and specifically gifted individuals, and thus move them towards reconciliation to the Lord they do not yet know, but whom they can experience through you and your example. How else can we give an answer for the hope that is within us, if our lives and our businesses do not model the life of our redeemer?  We know that in Him we are all equal, thus in our business we must make every attempt to live out that principle.

As a business owner, there are specific job competencies you must define to ensure business success, if you don’t your business will fail. Here is a perfect opportunity to teach the value of paying a fair wage based strictly on the competency of job performance. You need employees – regardless of race, creed or gender – who can demonstrate job competency. These workers should be compensated based on performance, and the metric for how that occurs, as well as the wage associated with performance, should be clearly articulated as a condition for employment. Conversely, expectations and consequences should also be clearly articulated for employees who do not perform according to the defined standards of competency. You should leave no room for interpretation in stating job requirements and compensation. As any wise business person, you should be looking for the best employee for the job, or for the person who can be groomed to become successful in that role. It is a biblical standard to pay a fair wage for a day’s work, as it is a biblical standard to apply appropriate consequences when a job is not performed according to employer requirements (which are fair and equitable).

I would also like to speak to the pragmatic wisdom of a business in which there is balanced representation of both genders, who are using their God-given talents to help a business fulfill its mission. McKinsey & Company, a leading international consulting firm, has published a report on the impact in an organization with women in top level management positions, Woman Matter: Gender Diversity a Corporate Performance Driver (published in 2007). The report concludes that of the 231 international public and private companies evaluated, the top performing companies are those companies with a strong representation of women in the top level management and board positions. In McKinsey’s research there was a clear correlation between gender diversity and better economic performance. The report underscores that performance increases significantly when the level of women in management reaches a critical mass. One participant in the survey, a Vice-President in a leading global healthcare company, states: “I think the real benefit of having women and diversity in a team is that you have a richer set of ideas. So I truly believe there is a direct relationship between team performance and having a diverse team with the best talents.” The message here; the more women in the organization, particularly in management roles, the more successful the organization. Do you want to be successful? But you cannot in clear conscience place women in leadership positions, if you cannot be willing to compensate them fairly for their equal, and in many cases greater, contribution to your organization.

The wisdom of our God far exceeds that of man, ours is foolishness in comparison. This is clear when we see how human organizations who value His equality in design – whether doing so knowingly – can reach a higher level of success, even within a secular environment. We are all imprinted with the “imago dei” – the image of God – should not our business reflect that truth in honoring that image in all? As Galatians 3:28 reminds us, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Let us follow therefore the servant leadership of Christ as we live out that truth in our business model.

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Colleene Isaacs is part of the ‘Ask a BAM Mentor‘ panel of mentors. Colleene serves as an advisor to early stage kingdom-focused startups and assists non-profit organizations in under-developed economies to develop sustainable models for income generation. Colleene has over 27 years of business experience and has been the founder of her own restaurant business, as well as a co-founder of a technology-based company. She has served in various management roles for technology companies, including training and development, customer service, business and channel development, and marketing. Colleene has been married to Robert, her high school sweetheart, for 40 years and they have 2 children and 3 grandchildren. Colleene is passionate about using her gifts to help others discover and live out their unique God-imprinted design for His kingdom purpose.

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