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Ladies Who Lunch—with Men

Do your coworkers follow the Billy Graham Rule?

The fact is that most Christian organizations have more male than female staff—especially at the top. When the Billy Graham Rule is enforced, then, female staff aren’t able to work effectively with those in the top tiers of leadership. Women are marginalized and cut out of opportunities to network, share their ideas, and advance in the organization. Even if women are invited to speak up or are represented at important meetings, the real decisions are often made over coffee, a long lunch, the hour-long car ride after a seminar, or 18 holes on the golf course. When women are erased out of these moments, organizations suffer.

Adhering to the Rule also infuses tension and fear into the DNA of an organization. Consciously or unconsciously, staff are told to view one another as temptations and threats rather than colleagues with brilliant minds and gifts for the kingdom. This actually makes working together to accomplish common goals more difficult.

The Rule also reflects negatively on the men who enforce it—a fact that many don’t consider. I honor what my colleague was trying to do when he made this statement to me. He was trying to do what he felt was right and protect both of us. My immediate reaction, though, was one of embarrassment for him. Instead of finding myself impressed by his fortitude and upstanding nature, I wondered if he had a secret attraction to our female staff members. I suddenly mistrusted him and worried about his relationship with his wife and family. The heart of the rule was to protect us from worrying about sexual temptation in the workplace. But enlisting the rule did the opposite: Now I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Many women who experience the Billy Graham Rule for the first time have similar reactions. Rather than praising the man who issued the edict, women wonder whether they should be worried about their coworker. Worse, the Rule actually makes many women nervous to be in any room with men, and they may begin to obsess over how to be appropriate and not appear to be a temptation—what they should wear, where they should sit, and more. Is this how men want to affect their female colleagues?

Who will model healthy work relationships?

The day my colleague threw down his edict, I dashed back to my office red-faced, grabbed my car keys, and headed out to grab a sandwich. The deli line was out the door, so I had a chance to stand and contemplate the crowd. Men and women stood side by side, scanning the menu and discussing chipotle mayo, smoked turkey, sales figures, and leadership strategies. These men and women worked for secular organizations, and they were free to swap ideas in public, learn more about their colleagues, and share a little banter outside the office. But me? I worked for a Christian organization. I stood in this line alone.

June23, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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