Wal-Mart Case Raises Question of Gender Roles in Business, Church

The Wal-Mart sexual discrimination case that went before the Supreme Court this week is raising questions about the existence of a "glass ceiling" for women to advance career-wise in corporate America as well as in the church.

David H. Garrison, chair of the business department at Ohio Christian University, said that the "glass ceiling" blocking women from advancing up the corporate ladder is a ceiling that ought to be shattered in modern society.

"It has long been shown that women are able and competent leaders in the corporate world," said Garrison, a professor and businessman for 37 years including at a number of Fortune 100 companies, to The Christian Post on Tuesday.

Likewise, Doris Gomez, director of Regent University's master's program in organizational leadership, agreed Wednesday that women's unique traits can be an advantage in today's realm of corporate leadership favoring "democratic and participatory leadership styles."

But she lamented that "for many women, the executive suite seems within grasp, but breaking through the glass ceiling to get there seems almost impossible."

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court justices heard arguments by an attorney representing six female Wal-Mart workers against employer Wal-Mart. The female workers behind the 2001 lawsuit claim that there is a corporate culture of gender discrimination stemming from Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., that blocks women from corporate advancement or receiving the same wages as men.

Whether gender discrimination occurred is not the current issue being addressed by the Court. Instead, the pressing point boils down to a question of the size of Wal-Mart, the world's largest private corporation with thousands of retail stores, and whether six women can represent over 1.5 million current and former female Wal-Mart employees that could join the suit if it is allowed to proceed.

With such a large company, gender discrimination was bound to have occurred somewhere in the thousands of Wal-Mart stores, commented Garrison. However, it's likely that in thousands of additional Wal-Mart stores there would not be any examples of discrimination found, he noted.

"I believe the Supreme Court…will require a larger number of actual plaintiffs," concluded Garrison, who is also an attorney licensed in Texas, about the case.

Wal-Mart Discrimination Case Applied to Church?

Some wonder if the Wal-Mart gender discrimination case could one day apply to large churches that point to the Bible to support why women can't hold certain positions.

Many church leaders interpret the Bible to teach that women should not have authority over men in the church, such as holding the position of pastor or deacon.

Garrison said that the right of freedom of religion will likely protect large churches from becoming vulnerable to similar sexual discrimination lawsuits as Wal-Mart.

"The courts should not enter into the theology of the local church," commented Garrison. "I believe the question of leadership in the church is purely a local church decision," he said.

But Garrison, although not a theologian, offered his opinion regarding the matter.

"Those who hold to a literal reading of I Timothy 2:12, where Paul states that he does not allow women to exercise authority over a man, should also read Ephesians 5:21, which requires us to … be subjected to one another in the fear of Christ," said Garrison, who stressed that he believes "fully in the inerrancy of scripture."

Kathleen Patterson, associate professor at Regent University specializing in leadership, pointed to Romans 12 noting that the passage does not specify gender but speaks of God's gifting and calling toward people, in many cases, women. Women who receive these gifts should use them to the fullest possible extent, she said.

"This is a great debate in the church and in many denominations as to what the role of women should be in the church. If we could answer that, we could solve a major theological debate that has persisted throughout the ages," said Patterson.

She added, "The journey is still being written" for women in the workplace.

Wal-Mart is a secular company but notably its current CEO, Mike Duke, was previously honored with the Christian Business Leader award by Oklahoma Christian University.

"I was always very impressed by how he integrated his faith with his work; he has been a role model for ethics, humility and care for others," said Allison Garrett, vice president for Academic Affairs at Oklahoma Christian University in 2009.

According to a CNN op-ed by Linda Mullenix, women make up about 80 percent of the hourly workers at Wal-Mart, but hold only about a third of the managerial store management positions.