The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“How Can Men and Women Work Together at Their Best?“
May 25, 2020
Intro: As we are beginning to think about returning to the workplace after COVID-19, how should we think about men and women working together in Christian-led workplaces? What does it look like when women and men reflect the glory of God as they work together in our organizations? Discover how, next.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
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And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
My guest today is Christine Talbot, the senior vice president of human resources for World Vision U.S.. Welcome to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Christine Talbot: Thank you, Al.
Al: Christine, welcome back. And I really valued our previous podcast as we helped our listeners look at the reality of sexual harassment in today’s workplace. And I appreciated how you named the problem and what we could actually do about it. And I really valued how you invited and challenged fellow Christian leaders to double down on their commitment to create a kind, healthy workplace, where men and women demonstrate mutual respect for one another as servants of Christ. So thank you for that podcast.
Christine: And thank you, Al, as well for bringing these timely and yet sensitive topics to your listeners.
Al: Well, we’ve got another one today, don’t we, Christine. The question I’d like to explore with you now is—it was appropriate before COVID-19, and I think it’s still even more appropriate as we think about coming back in the workplace—and so the question is, how can men and women work most effectively together in churches and Christian organizations and in the marketplace? And when I think about this, and as I’ve reflected on it, I’m reminded of the Genesis scripture where God created human beings, male and female, in the image of God. He created us, as it says in Genesis, and that we should view each other as being made in his image and working together, thus reflects the full glory and full expression of God. So given where we are now and where we anticipate to be as we come back together in the workplace, how can men and women at every level be at their best? How do we set the standard of trust, healthy communication, collaboration, that go into building a great, thriving, even flourishing culture where people love coming to work?
Christine: Well, Al, I think you said very well in your opening comments to frame this discussion today what the foundations are for us to draw from—male and female, created in God’s image, together bringing the uniqueness of each of our genders, and the fullness of God being represented, potentially, in how the way we work together in our workplaces. So that to me is important in every organization, just to be very clear on these biblical foundations for why it matters that both men and women are able to fully and freely fulfill their purposes in our workplaces.
I think that there’s a couple of things that we always want to bear in mind. Again, these are pretty foundational things, but the foundations continue to be what we need to rely on in order to have these flourishing cultures that we’re all after. So I think about becoming aware of assumptions that we hold. Our biases, most often they’re unconscious. But I think it’s important that we make effort individually and corporately to identify biases that we individually carry or that may be present in our culture and to challenge those. So yeah, making sure that we avoid assumptions and pay attention to biases.
Al: Boy, we all have them, don’t we.
For 21 years, before I co-founded the Best Christian Workplace Institute, I was a leader in an office of a global human-resource consulting firm, and there are always women working with me on projects that I was on or projects that I led, and we had thousands of employees globaly. I was fortunate to work with really highly professional men and women, for the most part. Yet, clearly there were some bad actors that would get into the mix, and sometimes issues would flare up, particularly where there was alcohol flowing freely. And at least once I reported issues to our internal human-resource department that there was inappropriate, demeaning, even sexually laced, coarse language that just was inappropriate. So let’s say an employee in a Christian environment experiences this kind of behavior. Christine, in your role, what counsel would you give to a person in that situation?
Christine: Well, I believe I spoke to this a bit in the last podcast about preventing sexual harassment, but it’s imperative that in our organizations we actually have identified places where individuals and managers can go to to report these things. Do you have a culture where it’s expected that if you see something, you can safely say something? And so that means that you have an identified human-resource person, perhaps you have a hotline. But if you came to me—let’s say you’re a manager in our organization and you came to me—I, first of all, would accept what you had to say even before conducting an investigation as having important information. What we experience can be colored by our own experience. But nonetheless, my first position would be to believe what you say as something that happened that was problematic, and start from there, gather the facts, and I would let you know that this is something that we need to look into. We will need to conduct an investigation into these things and to find out what actually went on so that we can take informed action, and depending upon what we discover will make a difference as to what those actions are. But I would also let you know in that very first conversation that behaviors that are, as you described, are not behaviors that we accept in our workplace, we would not accept those kinds of behaviors, we will look into this, and I want to hear what you have to say.
Al: So starting right off from that standpoint of listening; not being skeptical; not wondering, “Well, that couldn’t be true,” but to accept it right off the bat. And as you said, in fact, we’re really seeing that more organizations have places where people can go—hotlines and those kinds of things. Absolutely.
Let’s get practical. I know our leaders are curious about this topic, and so what does it mean practically? Sometimes the question comes up, with me in a car, alone with a female other than my wife, on a work trip. I don’t want there to be any false perceptions that would question my integrity or character. Certainly you’ve heard similar stories from employees. What about this man and an unrelated woman being in a car alone on a work trip?
Christine: Actually, this is, I would say, within the last 12 to 18 months is a topic that has come up in our own organization, and I’ve actually heard both from men and women about this topic. And I think what I’m going to share with your listeners might come a little bit as a surprise, but I do want to unpack this a bit. I appreciate the care that any man, yourself or any other, would want to take to avoid any appearance of being too familiar or close with a female coworker, of course. I would want our listeners to hear, though, also, that some women feel, when this is talked about in a workplace, they feel some angst because they’ve said to me, “We feel that we’re overlooked. We care about appearances, too.” Or that somehow the women, then, when this rule or practice gets discussed, that somehow the women inadvertently become the people who are the problem in the picture. Is the man the problem or the woman the problem? And so I think it’s really important to think about this question from the experience and perception of both the man and the woman involved in it.
What’s most important is that we exercise respect for one another’s comfort in this situation. And we don’t assume, but we have a conversation about. I think the best thing to do is to plan ahead. If you’re talking about getting from this office to that office and there’s two miles across town, it might be very simple. Are you comfortable that we can make our way over there? That’s different than going on a three-day business road trip together, and you’re in the car, and you’re going from location to location or church to church and visit to visit. I would stand back from that and say, can we have a third person involved? Can we meet up there to do the work? Because I would suggest that that probably would be too much and would probably be uncomfortable for both of the parties involved. So advanced planning is a good thing to do.
But please, I would want our listeners to be aware that both the man and the woman in this situation have a shared interest of being above reproach and want to feel psychologically comfortable and want to get the work done and do it well without having misunderstandings about what’s going on happen.
Al: Yeah. and we’ll get to this a little later. But to widen the lens so that we can see maybe a bigger picture, how would you describe the current workplace environment that we’re currently in, regarding men and women working together in the Christian workplace? What things are you seeing that concern you, and maybe there are some things that are encouraging to you. What do you see on maybe a 36,000-foot level?
Christine: Well, I will say that what encourages me is seeing men and women both leading with their strengths and contributing to the success of our organizations. What encourages me is the diversity of perspectives, that actually makes us stronger organizations and be able to have stronger outcomes. Because when both men and women are unhindered in their ability to use their voice, to bring their experience, to participate fully, we do have better outcomes. So I’m greatly encouraged by that.
And I’d say, secondly, Al, that I’m also very encouraged that we have high degrees of sensitivity and interest in ensuring that men and women can work well together. Now, I know that we’re, depending upon the size of the organization or the tone from the top or the care from the top person, we might be at different maturity levels in having discussion about this topic, but I do believe that—for a lot of reasons—I do believe that we are sensitive, we care, and we’re actually having dialog about this.
Al: Yeah. I really agree, Christine. So I love what you’re saying. Men and women actually leading and working together, where diversity—we all know this, and the research has proven it over and over—diversity with men and women working together does lead to stronger outcomes. That’s exactly right. And yes, so there is more sensitivity, and that does lead to respect, I think, where there is a willingness to talk about this. That’s for sure.
Christine: You know, I would add to this increased sensitivity, Al, and I know you might be curious about what I’m discouraged about as well, and I think one of the things that comes with that heightened sensitivity can be, and this is real, that both men and women—albeit, probably more men than women these days—can at times feel like they’re walking on eggshells. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to offend. I don’t know what the experience has been with this female leader or this female coworker.” And so there is also, this comes with the sensitivity, this discomfort. And so I think it’s, again, so imperative for us to open up paths for dialogue; to hear from one another; and to create safe places, safe, even structured and bonified places to have these dialogs.
I think that the leadership teams need to be having a dialogue about men and women working together well. Managers need to have that dialogue. Focus groups, something that we’ve invested in over the last few years, have been very effective to help people, first of all, know that this is a topic we can talk about. This is a topic that we care about, and it’s an area where we want to learn and grow and mature.
Al: Yeah. I think the attitude, as you say, of walking on eggshells, for a man or a woman even to say that it’s just a lose-lose situation to be in a project with people of the opposite gender because of possible problems that come up. I mean, that’s really short sighted, don’t you think, Christine?
Christine: It is, for sure. I think the laying low, holding back, and playing it safe is a recipe for mediocre outcomes, mediocre results, and, ultimately, even some quiet resentment to develop. It doesn’t make for a flourishing workplace.
Al: And getting back to men and women working together really does represent the fullness of God in separating ourselves in that sense. That’s exactly right.
You know, there’s an organization that I respect, and they have a standard for how men and women best work together. So this is, again, a ministry organization that I regard both for what they do and because, well, they’re a best Christian workplace. And they have a policy that they call an above-reproach policy, and the following activities are not permitted unless an exception is approved by an officer. And the first one is that staff members may not travel alone with an unrelated person of the opposite gender while traveling to and from their events or while on ministry business. And the second one is when picking up or dropping off guests at events for ministry business, staff members may not pick up or drop off unrelated person of the opposite gender unless a third person is present. And then third, meeting with those of opposite gender should be conducted in an area or rooms that provide maximum visibility to others.
As you’ve looked at your policies and practices, Christine, over the past couple of years, loop us in on some of the discussion that you’ve had as part of your leadership team and maybe even reflect a bit on this above-reproach policy.
Christine: Well, I’ll reflect on the above-reproach policy, first of all, Al. What I like about the policy is that it talks about the opposite gender. So it is an inclusive policy. It is holding both men and women to a shared standard with equal expectations. That’s a good thing. The other thing that I like about it is it’s clear, it’s simple, and everyone knows. It’s out in the open. So that’s great. That makes it easy to understand, easy to follow, and as I said, equitably applicable. So that sounds like that is something that works really well and I think can work really well.
Now, you asked about what some of our conversations have been at World Vision U.S. and some of the things that we’ve done. I referenced earlier that we have done focus groups because we do have women in many of our rep jobs that are very engaged with churches and other Christian organizations, community partnerships. So we have a number of women who are working in roles that have them out working outside of the office, working side by side with their fellow male colleagues in the same kind of a role. And there’s been some challenges, to be very honest. There’s been more challenges for women to be more readily accepted in going about their work than has been for men. We know that there’s a wide range of theological perspectives on the roles of women, and we take a position that men and women have equal access to the jobs that we have. But we also understand that different organizations have different perspectives. So what that’s meant is for some of our women and the men in these functions, there’s been discomfort, and there’s been a need to have this dialogue, a need to be heard, a need to have an exchange. And so I’ve conducted focus groups myself, and that has been helpful for me to unpack the experience of our employees and to make that a visible to our senior leadership team, where we can appreciate, we can support and figure out what sort of things we could do so that everybody can be fully productive.
Al: I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
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Al: And now, back to today’s guest.
Christine: You know, another thing that we do, something you’re very familiar with, is surveying. And we do have an annual engagement survey that is rich with information, and we look at it, both from male respondents as well as female respondents. So we look at demographic versions of it. And because it is very anonymous, we get some pretty candid, open-ended statements, and we have very high participation. So it’s high reliability and validity. And one of the things that we’ve seen is that both men and women are giving us feedback that we are year over year improving our organization effectiveness. That’s great. But what we’ve noticed is that women, we’re moving along that curve of positive improvements in the organization’s effectiveness at a lesser rapid rate than men. So we stood back, and we said, well, we have some data. What does it say? And we want to understand that. So we’ve used data to help us pose questions, help us dig deeper. And I’m very proud that in this last year, as a result of looking at the data, listening to the feedback from the focus groups, and having leadership dialogue, that we have increased our investment in developing women for our different levels of leadership, to invest in their confidence, invest in their voice. And we believe that this will be an accelerant, if you will, to our desires to operate at the highest levels of effectiveness and agility.
Al: Gosh, now you’re speaking my language, Christine. So a qualitative and quantitative data, both on the qualitative, the focus groups really do give you a sense of what the issues are, particularly as you look at the data and try to put the data in context and get a story around it.
And our survey data, men and women’s engagement scores are the same across Christendom, which is one of the things that I find encouraging. It varies from organization to organization, but when you really put it all together, the women’s scores and the men’s scores are the same. So I find that to be a very encouraging thing.
I’m curious, just one follow up question. You’re investing in women, you mentioned, to give them more confidence to use their voice. What are some practical ways that you’re actually doing that, Christine?
Christine: Well, the training programs that we have put together, I think, they’re designed to be very, very practical, and they’re well publicized in the organization. Managers of the women that go through these programs, they have a role in this as well. I think that’s very practical because it moves from taking her out of her job and equipping her over here and thinking something will happen separate from the experience of her doing her work with her manager and her team. So the learning is designed with a work-application component of it as well. And that’s about as practical as you can get.
Al: I wonder if you could tell us a favorite story of a policy or best practice that’s really set the tone and perhaps even pave the way for how men and women can best work together at World Vision. Do you have a story or a policy?
Christine: Well, I have a story. I have a story. It’s one that brings me just the greatest joy. And it’s a World Vision U.S. story, but I believe it could be a true World Vision internationally in our different countries and locations as well. But, Al, we do hold a weekly chapel for all World Vision U.S. staff, and we have speakers from within the organization as well as guest speakers from outside the organization. You may have been one some years ago, I believe,.
Al: I was, yeah.
Christine: Yes. And so when I think about who speaks in our chapels, from who leads prayer to who shares scripture, to who leads worship, to who brings a message to inspire us in our work, it’s men and women, and it’s men and women, both, from different levels and different roles in the organization. And to me, that’s a best practice. It’s one that builds on the foundational belief that each of us has gifts that God can speak through any of us and that all can have an opportunity.
One of my front-line managers gave the chapel message to about 600 of our staff virtually about two weeks ago. Edgar Sandoval, our president, he opens chapel frequently. So we’ve got different levels of people, men and women, and that doesn’t happen by accident. That’s what I would also want to say as a part of this story. We are intentional to be inclusive about who is bringing a message, who is seen, and who is heard. We are very intentional. It’s one of my favorite stories about who we are and what we’re doing.
Al: Intentional to be inclusive. I like that.
Another aspect around this, and it’s oftentimes not really thought of very much, and that’s the design of office space. That’s really important in consideration to enhance a safe and secure workplace. What examples come to mind for you of where wise and thoughtful office design is giving employees the room, flexibility, and freedom to work well together and maybe alone?
Christine: Yeah, I think that this can play a role. We have pod arrangements with open work areas for ease of collaboration. We have low, rather than high, walls between the cubes in most of our locations. We’ve made that move. We have smaller workspaces with doors and glass-panel windows so that you can have the sound privacy and the quiet when needed to meet in a small group, but you also have the transparency of the clear-glass panels so everything is seen and everything is known. We even, up in our executive office area, we put in a glass panel to our conference room. We don’t need to hide. And so it’s a very open, transparent place. And again, we’ve been intentional about this.
Al: Those are great examples and something every organization should really consider, every Christian organization particularly, just to provide openness and transparency and security for everybody involved. I love that.
At the end of the day, we know that men and women want dignity and respect. And as you and I have discussed, we’re all about creating healthy, even flourishing cultures where men and women can work together in God-honoring, kingdom-expanding work. To that end, what would you say is the biggest single challenge or opportunity facing leaders and their organizations around this men and women working together?
Christine: Well, it’s something that I keep coming back to. It’s a word that I’ve used frequently in our talk today, and I probably used it in our last talk, too. I think the biggest challenge is to be open to employee’s sentiment and willing to engage in healthy dialogue to acknowledge the experiences of the men and the women in your organization and what it’s genuinely like for them to work together. So I believe it takes leaders that have courage to step into this dialogue and to lead by example by having the dialogue with their leaders and to make it safe and valid to talk about this, and then to be clear about what your vision in your organization is for men and women working together. As long as we engage in dialogue and have courageous conversation and provide clarity, I do believe that our employees will welcome that, they’ll engage with us, and that will give us the greatest opportunity to have the healthiest environment for men and women.
Al: I remember our last discussion. We bring in, the men and women, bring into the workplace so much of our own history, and, in some cases, even damaged history. And so I was really taken with how we need to be aware that that might be part of the situation that as we’re having these conversations and where that takes a little courage, perhaps, to really understand where people are coming from.
Christine: Well, what you’re talking about, Al, is getting behind those things that are overt and clearly known, written in policies, and uncovering, what are the stories that we tell ourselves, what is hidden in the culture that needs to be seen and known? And again, that takes that courage and that dialogue. And for the leaders who are listening to this podcast, I would say find out who in your organization has those stories and find out who also will tell you those stories so that you can find out that which is hidden and address it.
Al: So, number one, just be open to the employee’s sentiment and really understand with courage what is happening and accept it. How about a runner up or a second greatest challenge that Christian nonprofits, churches, maybe even Christian-owned businesses have with men and women who work together in an organization?
Christine: Well, I think what’s true is that there will be problems along the way. There will be men and women who are tempted, who fall into behaviors that are not God honoring, or not acceptable to be happening in our workplace. And it’s unfortunate, but I think as humans, as works in progress, temptations that are presented to us, we have to be vigilant. But we also have to know that sometimes some problems, situations are going to arise. We shouldn’t be surprised, but we should be prepared to engage in understanding what’s happening, and make the way right for our organization and for the people involved. And sometimes there are hard actions that need to happen. It even might be at some point that one or more people can no longer remain in your organization, based upon what’s happened and their response.
Al: There will be problems. I think that is—I think we all understand that there will be problems. But are we prepared to handle those questions and those problems? And that does take training, that takes preparation, that takes good work to be even prepared for those situations. That’s great advice. Thanks, Christine.
You know, we’ve certainly enjoyed all that we’ve learned today. And what a great conversation, even starting, though, with the fact that it’s really the fullness of God’s intention that men and women do work together. And it’s just, for us, it’s a matter of figuring out how we do that. And I loved your point, how diversity—yes, men and women working together, it’s shown and research shows that there are stronger outcomes as a result of that. And that supports, of course, God’s desire, that we need to really bring sensitivity and having an intent where it really is, where we want to be working together effectively. So you’ve had great input. I love the way you go about doing the research, both with focus groups and looking at quantitative data around surveying and looking at the way men and women respond to the same questions. That’s really important, and I applaud that work. That’s fantastic. So, just recognizing that the challenge is for many of us that when we encounter problems to really be opened to the situation, to not judge it immediately, to be open to the employee’s sentiment particularly, and then, just recognize that there are problems, as you said, and yet that we need to be prepared.
Anything else that you’d really like to mention that we haven’t talked about?
Christine: Al, I guess I would leave our listeners with this thought. I believe that our Christian workplaces can be the best workplaces that anyone could choose to work in. If we treat people with respect, we seek to apply godly wisdom found abundantly in God’s word, and make practical application of it, and keep learning from one another as leaders on how to best do that, I love the vision of our Christian organizations being outstanding places for Christian people to come and be and do their very best for our respective missions. That is always my dream and my vision, and I believe that we can do that.
Al: Yep. You’ve just about said our vision word for word, that Christian workplaces set the standard as the best, most-effective places to work in the world, and this is a key part of it.
And just one last thing, knowing that we’re in the middle of the COVID crisis and the work that World Vision does, just give us a flavor, a flare, of what is World Vision—how are you responding as an organization to COVID-19?
Christine: Well, thank you for that opportunity, Al. Speaking of men and women working together, the men and women of World Vision are working around the world with a global-pandemic response. We started out identifying 17 of the countries most hard hit outside of the United States and mobilized our then-largest pandemic response to the most immediate needs of food, sanitation, and child safety. But since then, as the pandemic has spread, we’ve expanded our global response to 30 countries and with a COVID plan in effect for every one of the approximately 80 countries that we work in, based upon the status of the COVID virus in that country.
Here in the U.S., we’re actively working through our domestic ministry to distribute family food kits in some of the hardest hit and most vulnerable communities in our own country. I mentioned to you earlier our work up in the Bronx, for example, which has received some great visibility through local TV news. And families there don’t have the flexibility to even feed their families. And so we have been given the opportunity to receive many donations from generous corporations, and we translate that right into distribution in the communities in safe ways, but getting food and family needs met now.
Al: And there’s nothing better than during a crisis for Christian organizations to be the tip of the spear in serving the needs of the poor and people in need around the world. That’s fantastic.
So, Christine Talbott, senior vice president of human resources for World Vision U.S., thank you for sharing your wisdom, insights, and stories. And thank you for investing yourself in everyone who’s been listening and benefiting from all you’ve shared with us today. Thanks, Christine.
Christine: You’re welcome.
Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there’s a specific insight, story, or action step you’ve enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.
This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall. Our social-media and marketing manager is Solape Osoba. Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.