on women and the workplace

Another science site I follow is The Scientist, “Magazine of the Life Sciences”. The site bills itself as a magazine for life science professionals. Many of the articles are waaaay over my head. However, I occasionally find useful information or sermon illustrations here. And it only takes a few minutes a week to scan the headlines for news of interest from the RSS feed.

A couple of articles recently highlighted a phenomenon many have observed in various ways over the years. It is the ratio of women to men involved in the science field. In an article entitled, “Fixing the Leaky Pipeline“, Phoebe Leboy asks the question, “Why aren’t there many women in the top spots in academia?” Another article, a blog by Ivan Oransky, asks, “Do women blog about science?

The blog article observes:

Of course there are lots of women blogging about science. But only about a fifth — 22% — of the bloggers at www.scienceblogs.com are women, panelist Karen Ventii, who blogs there at Science to Life, found when she counted up those bloggers who identified their gender.

The earlier article by Phoebe Leboy gives us these two interesting paragraphs:

One of the most significant leaks in the pipeline occurs during the postdoc to tenure-track transition (EMBO Reports, 8:977-81, 2007). At the University of Pennsylvania, where I was on the faculty for 42 years, the basic science departments in the medical school had 18 women who were tenure-track assistant professors in 1999. By 2007 the number had dropped to four. In the past five years, only one woman has been hired as a tenure-track assistant professor in the basic science departments of Penn’s medical school.

One widely acknowledged reason for the dearth of women in tenure-track assistant professor positions is that these high pressure jobs coincide with a woman’s last best chance for children. Caring for a newborn child is a stress on both men and women, but according to a recent survey of NIH postdocs, women are more likely to make career concessions than men.

If you have a Biblical world-view, you won’t be surprised at these observations. You would expect gender differences to show up in many different workplaces because their are gender differences. There is no ‘one size fits all’ for men and women. Men and women will tend to make their career choices for different reasons. Christians will attribute the differences to human nature, with the best explanations for this derived from the created order of things as observed in Biblical revelation.

Today’s National Post has similar observations from the business world, “Speak up and be noticed“, laments the absence of women from the executive suites of the nation. And “When maternal wall joins glass ceiling” observes again one of the key differences:

Jane Hall was part of the first generation of women to go through training depot for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Her career was on a fast track when she put on the brakes to raise her four children.

“For the first six to eight months, every night in the middle of the night a different child would wake up and come to my bedroom door to make sure I was there,” said Ms. Hall, whose children now range in age from 14 to 21. “I thought, how many times when I was working the midnight shift did they do that and I wasn’t there?'”

The secular world seeks pragmatic solutions to the differences and the frustrations the differences impose, valuing ‘gender equality’ and ‘women’s opportunity’ far more highly than family. There is a short-sightedness to the value of

  1. preparing the next generation, and
  2. having the next generation.

Women will sacrifice one world for the other or attempt an impossible juggling act to maintain both.

The ministry of Christianity ought to address the failure of secular pragmatism to provide satisfying answers for these frustrations. Of course, we know that the Bible actually elevates women, contrary to popular misconception. The Biblical view of women is light years beyond the misanthropic stereotype many believe.

I recently read an article on religious decline that lamented the loss of women in churches. I am sorry that I don’t recall where I read it. The thesis of the article was that in our modern feminized world, the decline of the churches is correlated to the decline in women’s interest in the programs of these churches. As I recall, the article was including (or perhaps especially highlighting) the decline in mainline, liberal churches.

I would suggest that conservative, Bible-believing churches should encourage women’s involvement in meaningful ministry to one another, a la 1 Tim 5.3ff. We often lament the presence of men in our ministries, but it seems to me that it might be a wise strategy (and a tremendous opportunity for our ladies) to find ways to reach out to today’s young women with the gospel. Where the women are, men will to some extent follow.

In any case, women can and should play a vital role in evangelism and discipleship within the local church. Their efforts can and should produce a good deal of satisfaction and fulfillment. Their efforts will count for eternity and provide a much better alternative to the work/home juggle that so many face today.

More needs to be said, and specific plans developed. I hope that perhaps this piece might stir someone up in their thinking about women’s ministries.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3