More than half of British women admit to flirting with men to get their own way, with a fifth saying they do so at work (according to a survey investigating gender bias and positive discrimination commissioned by comparison website confused.com, which polled 2,000 people). One of the ways in which having faith affects us is that we (hopefully) become more values-led, our awareness opened to wider issues, rather than just living in a personal bubble.
The British workplace still has a long way to go to provide non-discriminatory equality to all, and to honour diversity. Women represent 38% of lower/middle management, but only 11% at executive committee level. Our top level of leadership is suffering from the brain drain of missing women. The principles of human rights and non-discrimination are based on a Christian ethic, and should be something we are actively supporting as Christians in the workplace. It’s about being salt and light in a muddy society.
You see, how we use our sexuality isn't isolated. It affects others. If we are creating a culture in which we get noticed because of our flirting or our looks, it means that others are not getting noticed because they are deemed less ‘fun’ or good-looking. Each flirtatious act and response to flirting can create a microculture in which people are valued by how they are prepared to use their sexuality, rather than their skills, attitude or work. In a recent survey, 39% of male managers admitted to employing a female candidate based on their level of attractiveness and 57% said they gave preferential treatment to attractive employees. This is appalling. We all need to examine what we are doing that might collude with and perpetuate this, as it is far from the equality we should be aiming for.
Flirting can also impair our judgement in regard to the quality of our work, diverting our minds. A huge amount of productivity is lost every year by companies whose workers are putting a percentage of their creative minds into flirting rather than into achieving anything of value for their employers.
These are the employment issues to consider, but there are also more intrinsic values to think through. If the flirting has a sexual current to it, what does it say about how we value sex? Flirting that is not for a committed relationship pitches our sexuality as something that can be used, and as outside of love. Where flirting is used in a considered way to catch the eye of someone you would like to have a committed relationship with, it is of a different order. God is for healthy relationships, so some wholesome, targeted flirting with a chosen person can be essential to get a relationship off to a start, or to keep an existing relationship spiced with joie de vivre. But if it is not kept within a committed relationship, it puts a whole different value onto the nature of our sexuality.
Sexuality in this context then becomes devalued. It has the power to manipulate others; it becomes a commodity that overrides personhood. Ultimately, we are separating sexual behaviour from love, and that is the true travesty. Sexuality lanced from love is a murderous boomerang that gradually destroys the joy of sex itself. Sex without love, in all its many genres, is increasingly addictive and unsatisfying. It works in the same way as a porn addiction to create erectile dysfunction and loss of arousal. Flirting might initially seem like a harmless bit of playfulness to pass the day, but we should be aware that it is the shallow end of a powerful current.
In light of all I have said, I wouldn't want us to go to the other extreme and feel that we cannot use humour, or have fun with colleagues. That would make for a very dull work team. By all means, let’s have fun at the right times at work, but let’s include a deeper mindfulness as to the impact of that ‘fun’. I once had ‘fun’ throwing a friend into a swimming pool, only to discover that it cost him and his wife hundreds of pounds to replace the hidden hearing aid I didn't realise he wore...