3 Things I have Learned about Working with Men

I left home for college when I was eighteen years old, and I never looked back. I boarded a plane from Columbia, SC and flew all the way to Newport, Rhode Island. Is was my first time visiting that state. I was greeted at the airport by strangers in military uniforms, who didn’t seem happy to see me. We rode a white van to a military base where I began my check-in procedures. Once done, I entered a rectangle shaped room with tan walls, tan furniture, a small window, and two worn out twin mattresses. Thankfully, my roommate was a sweet and kind girl from Saipan. She brought joy into our room, and into my life.

Outside of that room, there were other rooms filled with men and women who are pursuing their dreams to become military officers. Most of the men in my “dorm” room were either competitive athletes or prior military enlisted personnel. They were strong, confident, sometimes overbearing leaders. They were also funny, thoughtful, protective, and compassionate. I especially bonded with the black men, because I found out very early that we were all struggling with the same stuff. We were homesick. We knew that the opportunity to graduate from the United States Naval Academy had the potential to change our lives. We wanted to do better for ourselves, our families, and our communities. No one wanted to screw that up!

Men and Their Bad Behavior

My life and reality for the next 11 years included living and leading along side men. In all that time, I only had an intimate relationship with one of them; I never felt like my life was in danger, and I was never sexually or violently harassed. I pause here to say two very important things:

I know several women that have suffered physical or sexual harassment or assault, and even rape in the military. It is a problem that needs continuous and serious attention.

On another note, there have been several instances over my 11 years of serving in a military environment where men have been accused of bad behavior, and once the case is investigated, we found that either the abuse of drugs or alcohol was at play, or it was a racialized incident. We need to be honest about the approach to these judicial processes as well.    

Thankfully, that has not been my personal story. Because I have had healthy and mostly pleasant experiences working with men, I was caught off guard when entering different career fields where the behaviors were not healthy, and male and female interactions were not normalized in the workplace.

Christians at Work

Regarding Christian environments, I don’t find the Billy Graham rule particularly helpful for our mission work. For starters, this was a personal position that Evangelist Graham adopted for himself. As a married man, he elected not to travel, meet, or eat alone with any woman other than his spouse. Good for him! He was not saying that this was the golden standard for everyone. When I interviewed his brother-in-law (who was a part of Graham’s inner circle), Leighton Ford, for my A Sojourner’s Truth podcast, he affirmed that women and men can have healthy cross-gender relationships.  

Secondly, rarely are the established rules regarding male-female interaction intended to protect the most vulnerable parties (i.e. the women or children in some cases). Oftentimes, they come from a poor view of women. They assume that women are temptresses, without acknowledging the responsibility that men have over their own minds, or their temptations to exploit or abuse their power. We need to first look at the heart of the matter before we consider our outward behavior.

Lastly, I know that God has a higher purpose and redemptive call for female and male interactions. So, part of my leaning into professional and personal relationships with men, which includes mentoring and sometimes sponsorship, is a testament to that higher calling. We have work to do, and if we are focused on our mission and our relationships are healthy, then that is also a testament to the goodness and grace of the Lord.

So, what do we do?

We are all in relationships with other people, and each of those relationships can impact the others.

Here are a few practices―not rules―that I have put into place in my personal life, so I can continue to work with integrity:

1. Keep the lines of communication open. I’m married, so talking with my spouse is an important step. Note: that communication is not gender specific. I’m an extrovert, which means that on a lot of occasions I am processing information outwardly. Oftentimes, I do that with my spouse. In other words, my husband knows who I talk to and what we are talking about. He knows who I went to lunch with and why. He doesn’t always ask, and he does not check up on me. I tell him, because he is my primary person and I want him to know.

2. Be wise and discerning. I deal with men, but I don’t deal with all men. Do a gut check. Married or single, you know when someone is flirting. If the both of you are single, and that’s what you are looking for, then reply accordingly. If either of you are married, then make it very clear that you have no interest in going down that road.

I’ve had occasions when someone was flirting, and in a very clear and professional way, I just let the person know that I wasn’t interested. I don’t deal with men who don’t respect the institution of marriage. I don’t deal with men who think they can disrespect me or my spouse, and I don’t talk about my spouse negatively to other people. I don’t want to give the perception that I am looking, or that any man can fill a gap or offer something better than what I already have at home.

3. Make your intentions clear. In any relationship, I like to know where I stand. Who are we individually? What defines our relationship? What are we called to do or be together? Of course, I don’t blast people with these questions on our first meeting. However, this is a part of my process for determining the purpose of the relationship. Some relationships are strictly professional; some are just for encouragement. Some relationships are temporary; others are long-term. There are some men in my life that are like brothers. Literally, we check in; we fight sometimes, we correct, and we love each other. I have male mentors. I mentor and coach men.

I think it is important to consider: Why and how do we keep showing up for each other?

For example, in my nonprofit, Leadership LINKS, Inc., we have women and men working and leading together as a Christian model and witness because in our culture, so much of our male and female interactions are met with suspicion. I believe that healthy, loving, and affirming relationships across genders is a testament of God’s redemptive kingdom work. That is our “why.”

Concerning personal relationships: When the man is married and the opportunity presents itself, I try to introduce myself to and establish a rapport with his spouse. When possible, I do this with my female friends who are newly married as well, because I value my relationships with them, and I want our relationship to thrive. So, if I value the relationship with my friends regardless of their gender, then I also need to honor the other important relationships in their lives.     

What are some practices that you have used to establish healthy personal and professional relationships with the opposite sex?    

A Beautiful Influence

One of the places that I have the privilege of writing is Outreach Magazine. Here’s my column. And here is my most recent article.

Recently I watched the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the recent biopic on the life of Fred Rogers. I went with a dear friend who had never seen an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when she was growing up.

Throughout the film, she would reach across the snack box and tap my arm, “Did he really do that? Did he really say those things?” she would ask.

I smiled and nodded as I popped another french fry into my mouth. I grinned from ear to ear as I recalled childhood memories. I was struck with emotion while singing the songs and mimicking the friendly puppet characters in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. At times, I was moved to tears.

I did not know it when I was a child, but Fred Rogers was a Protestant minister who used the medium of television to share the gospel’s message of love for one’s neighbor. Following the model of Jesus, he paid special attention to “the least of these,” specifically children. His pulpit oozed love, truth and kindness, and that is why his influence continues to resonate more than a decade after his death.

What will your legacy be?

Continue reading at Outreach Magazine.

The 10 Commandments of White Advocacy

I have been on an intensive travel schedule this year. Part of my work includes speaking and educating about racial issues. When speaking to and connecting with predominately white audiences, I find that the same issues arise which can hinder understanding and forward movement.

Therefore, in honor of Black History Month and in no particular order, I have drafted these ten commandments for white advocates:

  1. THOU SHALL NOT USE THE NAME OR INVOKE THE TEACHINGS OF MLK AGAINST A PERSON OF COLOR (POC).    

The real Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cannot be summarized into one speech or our modern holiday celebrations. He was a deeply spiritual, intellectual, and complicated man of justice. He cared about America; he loved black people, and he was also a global citizen. Because there were a lot of people who did not like or understand his calling, he was murdered like many of the faithful prophets who went on before him. Don’t be content with the sound bite versions of what we think we know of Dr. King. Take another look. Study his life, writings, speeches, and sermons to get a better understanding of the man, while also understanding that POC have a lived experience and history that embodies the pain and suffering of his words.

2. THOU SHALL NOT SPEAK ON BEHALF OF POC WITHOUT GIVING PROPER CREDIT OR REFERENCE TO THE PERSON(S) OF COLOR THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM TO GAIN A BETTER UNDERSTANDING.

When I ask white people about what they are learning from POC, I often find that they are comfortable learning from those who share their same opinions (if they are taking this posture of learning at all). People of color are not a monolithic group. We must have some cross-cultural understanding if we want to become professionally successful.

Asian and Latinx Americans can come from various countries and can speak different languages, indigenous people are from different tribes, and like them, African American experiences and opinions can vary greatly depending on where they grew up, their levels of education, work or entertainment communities, or socioeconomic class. We all have so much more to learn.  

3. THOU SHALL BE QUICK TO HEAR, SLOW TO SPEAK, AND SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY.

This is straight up good Bible teaching. Reference: James 1:19. Enough said.

4. THOU SHALL PAY POC AN EQUITABLE WAGE TO EDUCATE YOU ON RACIAL, ETHNIC, AND CULTURAL ISSUES.

First, consider what you would pay a white male who has the same level of expertise as your invited speaker, consultant, coach, or educator (very few will have the same level of expertise), and then add a 10% hardship fee or reparations tax. 

5. THOU SHALL INTENTIONALLY SEEK AT LEAST ONE AREA IN YOUR LIFE WHERE YOU ARE CHOOSING TO SUBMIT TO THE LEADERSHIP OF A PERSON OF COLOR.

Again, this action is rare. It can go a very long way towards bringing about unity and understanding, healing, and education. Quite frankly, taking this action with a pure heart will make the learner an overall better human being. This is the stuff that shapes our character.

6. THOU SHALL NOT USE PEOPLE OF COLOR OR THEIR CHILDREN AS PERSONAL PROJECTS TO EASE A GUILTY CONSCIENCE, OR MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOURSELF.

Charity work does not automatically equal justice work. Charity addresses symptoms. Justice confronts systems. Compassion and empathy are the calls of the first; while a deeper, uncompromising and sacrificial love is the posture of the second. As an act of justice, consistently support the work, churches, nonprofits, and organizations that are led by people of color. 

7. THOU SHALL EDUCATE ONESELF BY READING WELL AND BROADLY.

Review the second commandment, and support books that are written by people of color.

8. THOU SHALL NOT INVOKE EXPERT STATUS IN RACIAL RELATIONS BECAUSE OF ONE’S INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE, ADOPTED MINORITY CHILD, BLACK FRIEND FROM COLLEGE, OR BLACK BFF THAT SITS NEXT TO YOUR CUBICLE AT WORK.

Be an ally, not an expert. Seeking expert status centers conversations around whiteness, and therefore, perpetuates the power dynamics that feed racial sin in America. When asked, humbly share your personal experience and what you are learning, then always be ready to recommend or introduce a POC into the conversation or space. Ask questions and listen more than you make statements. 

9. THOU SHALL INSIST THAT 20% OF THE HIRING CANDIDATE POOL INCLUDES QUALIFIED PEOPLE OF COLOR AND INSIST THAT THE FINAL SELECTIONS INCLUDE A PERSON OF COLOR.

Resumes and networks (rarely in that order) get people to the interview table. By the time candidates are interviewed, nearly everyone is qualified. The interview is set-up for the simple purpose of confirming the candidate’s credentials, but mostly it determines whether people in the industry want to work with the candidate. Therefore, if the leaders in your workspace are consistently deciding that they do not want to work with a diverse team, then you should consistently ask the question, “Why not?” Call people to account for their bad behavior.  

10. THOU SHALL REQUIRE CULTURAL COMPETENCY AS A PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT REQUIREMENT. 

Be better, then do better.

What have you learned on this journey towards cultural competence and understanding?

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