The Women of Easter

In the new edition of our book, “Profit with a Higher Purpose” (available May 2017), we explore the problems with sexism and the lack of diversity in organizations in a section titled “The Power of Diversity”. We also show the opportunities that can be opened up when teams are made more diverse.

Sexism is rife in Silicon Valley, according to a recent cover story in the Atlantic, titled “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?”. The Atlantic article explains how often women are dismissed in a male-dominated culture: first, they are dismissed as qualified candidates during the hiring process, and second – even if they get hired – their opinions are all too often dismissed and the value of their work discounted. We read how Tracy Chou, a Stanford-educated software engineer working at a start-up, discovered a major bug in the company’s software code. But her concerns were dismissed by her male colleagues. She persisted and even demonstrated the problem to them. But it was only after a male co-worker acknowledged that she was right that the company acted. Her proposed bug fix then had to be reviewed by two male engineers before it could be implemented, which was also unusual.

While the Silicon Valley sexism will seem all too familiar to women working elsewhere, it is painfully ironic that a supposed bastion of progress and modernity like Silicon Valley is deeply infected with gender and also racial bias. The further irony is that diversity is actually good for innovation as has been shown in several studies.

This Easter, we would do well to remind ourselves of the centrality of women to the greatest story ever told, that of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. Here is an extract from the section on diversity in our book:

The world in which Jesus lived two thousand years ago was a totally male-dominated society. Yet, the writers of the gospels took great care to include women in their stories, and to value women in ways that may not seem remarkable to modern readers, but would have stood out to contemporary gospel readers. Mark, in particular, uses inclusive terminology throughout his gospel and often holds out women as models of discipleship and sacrifice. Mark also records multiple interactions between Jesus and women, where Jesus heals women and treats women outcasts with respect and mercy in a way that startled his followers. (Note: Do yourself a favor and read the whole book of Mark this Easter weekend with a specific eye open for the role of women – it’s quite remarkable!)

When Jesus is crucified several women remain to watch from a distance[i] long after the male disciples have fled. They observe his death and some follow Joseph of Arimathea to see where he buries Jesus. In Mark 16 we read that on Easter morning Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome find an empty tomb when they bring spices to anoint Jesus’s body. They are startled to learn from an angel that Jesus has risen. The resurrected Jesus then appears first to a woman, Mary Magdalene. But she is not believed when she tells the disciples. This is not only normal incredulity given the extraordinary events. At this time women cannot even testify in court, so little status do they have. The men of the time are predisposed to discount a woman’s testimony. (As too many still do today.) But the gospel writer, Mark,  is signaling to us that this bias is wrong by making women’s testimony central to the credibility of his account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a pivotal truth of the Christian faith. As Paul says elsewhere, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”[ii]

Reflect on the following: Christians by definition believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But to believe in Jesus’s resurrection you also have to trust the women whose crucial eyewitness testimony was dismissed at the time.

What and whom do you choose to believe this Easter?

In gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice and in celebration of his resurrection,

Peet van Biljon and James C Sprouse

[i] Mark 15:40-41.

[ii] 1 Cor. 15:14.