The first report was about a beloved TV dad. Then a famous conservative talk show host and the CEO of the network that paid his multi-million dollar salary. Then it was a whole series, featuring Silicon Valley venture capitalists and technology CEOs. Last week, a Hollywood movie mogul and starmaker was added to the list.
Stories of powerful men behaving badly toward women have long been a feature of American life. Until recently, they’ve been mostly regarded as rumors—used to shame victims into silence or buried under nondisclosure agreements and monetary payouts. Now, the democratizing power of social media is giving those stories new strength, and the world has begun to listen and believe them.
Viewed together, the reports of the last few years paint a picture of a modern American workplace rife with unchecked hypermasculinity, harassment, and discrimination. As a woman who has lived and worked in Silicon Valley for almost 20 years, I’m compelled to say that, sometimes, it is. I’ve been subjected to some of the active mistreatment and passive discrimination the media describes. I’ve observed and been privy to reports of much more.
But I’ve also been treated with particular kindness and respect by men in the workplace, many of whom are committed Christians. They live out Ephesians 6:5–9 in an increasingly Ephesians 5:3–5 world. To learn how to do that, the Old Testament story of Boaz and Ruth has wisdom to guide us.
Ruth was a widow, with no male relatives to provide for or protect her. She was also a citizen of Moab, a country of ignominious origins (Gen. 19:36) and history (Deut. 2:29), whose citizens were legally prohibited from fellowship with Israelites (Deut. 23:3–6). These identity markers meant Ruth lived on the lowest rung of the cultural ladder, vulnerable to poverty and abuse.
Boaz was Ruth’s social opposite—an Israelite from the princely line of Judah (1 Chron. 2:10), and a man of means and influence. He used his authority and influence to protect and bless his workers (both men and women), including Ruth, in at least three significant ways.
1. Attentiveness and Action
Boaz’s organization had levels of management (Ruth 2:3, 6, 8), but he still noticed when Ruth joined his field (Ruth 2:5–6). He also knew what his fellow townsmen thought about Ruth (Ruth 3:11). Cultural norms might have tempted Boaz to neglect Ruth’s well-being because of her status as a Moabite. Instead, Boaz’s attentiveness spurred him to positive action on her behalf (Ruth 2:8–9).
Righteous integrity in the workplace begins with looking for ways to protect and bless the employees under your care, not turning a blind eye to their vulnerabilities or needs.
2. Protection and Provision
The aim of Boaz’s words and actions were twofold—to protect Ruth from harm (Ruth 2:9b) and to help her to be productive (Ruth 2:9c, 15–16). Boaz was unequivocal in his instructions to his men, and to Ruth herself, to ensure she wouldn’t be harassed (Ruth 2:9b). He was equally forthright in his direction to proactively care for her and the other women (Ruth 2:9c). He created an environment where her work would be easier. Because of Boaz’s proactive direction, Ruth’s work environment was more than just physically safe. She was equipped with what she needed to work well and to feel welcome.
Policies that protect people from harassment or abuse are right and good. They create a basic level of safety so people can do their jobs. Bosses who implement additional policies that equip people to perform their jobs do even better.
3. Policy and Personal Example
Boaz established work policies for his people that were clear and direct. He also modeled his directives. He was adamant that Ruth wasn’t to be molested by any of his male workers, and in the aftermath of their late-night conversation, he acted to secure her reputation (Ruth 3:14). He put his men to work caring for the woman’s physical needs (Ruth 2:9c), and he himself did the same—eating with and serving her publicly in a setting where by rights she ought to have been serving everyone else (Ruth 2:14). Boaz’s work values were more than hollow sentiments crafted by Human Resources that hung on a breakroom bulletin board. They bounded and shaped all his actions.
If you’re in a position of leadership, modeling the values and behavior you’re trying to build across your company communicates integrity.
Boaz’s leadership style was hardly the norm in his day. Boaz was living in the end of the era of the Judges, when sexual violence was rampant (Judg. 19) and everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Judg. 21:25). And yet Boaz’s words and actions clearly communicate his commitment to following God’s law (Exod. 23:9), and to help others follow it also.
In his countercultural care and protection of women, Boaz prefigured his greatest descendant, Jesus, who honored and blessed women in a culture that frequently did not. He alleviated their suffering and restored them to community and family (Matt. 9:20, Luke 7:12–15). He honored the dignity of marginalized foreigners (John 4:1–28; Matt. 15:22–28) and covered women with tragic pasts in blessing (Luke 7:36–50). He made women his messengers (John 4:28–29; Luke 24:1–10), bringing blessing to those who welcomed them (John 4:39–42) and reproach on those who did not (Luke 7:40–47; Luke 24:11).
If you’re a man blessed with authority and influence in the workplace, use it to protect and empower women. As you do so, you follow in the footsteps of not just Boaz, but Boaz’s greatest son, Jesus Christ.