Some of you may know that I teach Human Resources (HR) and do Corporate Training. I have taught many courses including Business Etiquette, Business Ethics, Human Resources regulations and Cultural Diversity. When I do Executive Coaching for Businesses, we discuss not only business related topics but also personal conduct in the workplace.
I try not to watch the news or read the paper. The news bothers me and I find it depressing for the most part. Yet, I find that my friends always fill me in on what’s going on as it relates to my passions. A sweet friend told me on Friday about the media frenzy surrounding Mike Pence following the Billy Graham rule about not being alone with a woman (other than his wife). This was reported first by Laura Turner of the Washington Post article here about Karen Pence and her support of her husband. The description at the start of the article is surprisingly sweet, giving examples of how Mike Pence and his wife support one another and care deeply as a faithful, married couple. It’s towards the middle of the article that raises questions about the current times, stating “But colleagues and employees engage in a relationship between grown-ups who ought to be able to have an appropriate work-related conversation or a meal together” [bold & italics mine]. True, if we all could get along, then maybe people who are grown-ups wouldn’t sue one another or talk about each other behind their backs either. The very next line gets to the heart of the matter “Affairs start in secrecy, and to guard against them is good.” This is why Billy Graham started his rules – so that all he did was out in the open. As an Evangelical Pastor on the global stage, he had to protect himself and guard against things that could be misconstrued by others.
I am shocked at the media backlash this has garnered. Given the amount of lawsuits served up in the HR field, male and female relationships in the workplace are tenuous. For people in higher positions, this can mean being at further risk for workplace lawsuits and also personal lawsuits. For example, I generally advise managers to keep the door ajar when doing performance reviews (good or bad ones – doesn’t matter) so that employees will not charge them with duress or false imprisonment. Before you balk at that, there have been cases where someone of the opposite sex claimed both sexual harassment and also duress during a closed-door performance review. She stated that her male boss made inappropriate comments to her, said that he would raise her ratings for sexual favors and then wouldn’t let her leave because the door was closed (not locked, but simply closed). He denied all accusations, he was well-respected by his staff, but the company settled the case out of court because they did not want to go through the expense of fighting he said/she said in public.
The same holds true for lunch time conversation or long car trips. Why put yourself into that position with someone of the opposite sex? Why not invite someone else to go with you? My recommendation is always this: if you are a female in a position of authority and you want to invite a male to lunch to discuss something, have lunch in the company break room or cafeteria, where others can publicly see you and you are accessible. Do not go to another location outside of work by yourselves. Invite another person to go. This way, if there is an accusation of wrongdoing, at least you have another witness present.
I believe that both Billy Graham and Mike Pence are both correct on this issue, not just from a religious viewpoint that honors and protects their spouse and marriage but also from a secular, business viewpoint. Placing yourself into a situation that can cause doubts and show favoritism can cause tongues to wag in the workplace. This is a great way to invite lawsuits. I’m not the only one with this viewpoint. In a blog titled “When Genders Matter” by Molly Donovan for The Muse, the same idea is supported. It’s not just a matter of male and female anymore either. The same principle holds true for transgender and LGBT orientation. The person across from you could be another female who may make sexual advances towards you as a female boss. It could be a male employee having lunch with a gay manager who might make inappropriate advances.
In this day and age, it’s good to error on the safe side. Yes, you may offend people when you leave the door slightly open. Yes, you may offend people when you ask for someone else to join you on the one hour drive to the client meeting. However, at the end of the day, you may find that it’s a bit easier to sleep at night knowing that you are not crossing the lines or sending out messages that could be misinterpreted by others.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and profound insight, 10 so that you can discern what best, that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.… Philippians 1:9-11
As Christians, we are held to a higher standard by God. We are to look towards Christ and not allow ourselves to be placed in situations that may mar our witness. May we choose to err on the side of caution and use the Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment to conduct ourselves in a way that’s stated in Philippians 4:8 ~ “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. ”
Think about how the world will perceive you when you go out for lunch or go for drinks with that ONE female employee after work. Think about what that does to your reputation (man or woman) in the workplace. Think most of all about what message that is sending out about you as a child of God. Mike Pence is suffering from media backlash, but from the examples given about his daily choice to not be alone with women, his witness as a Christian man is to be blameless in his interactions with others. May we all strive to focus on what God wants and not what the world wants. Amen.