Feb 2015

The Bible’s High Tech Business Woman

Posted by / in B4Blessing News, Women in Business / 1 comment

Microsoft’s CEO’s made a very public gaff about women and getting a raise – which he deeply regretted after his wife and mother provided some insight for him. Now there is a push by Microsoft, Facebook and LinkedIn to increase the number of technical females in their ranks as well as encouraging female participation in math and science education. When I worked for Intel we specifically held Women’s Forums in universities to seek out technical women. Once I asked my brother-in-law who is a professor at the Colorado School of Mines about the women studying mining engineering. He told me that they typically pushed the guys to do better – and not in the less physical stuff like computers, but even in the tough technical earth sciences.

Biblical High Tech Business Woman
But few people realize that we have our own High Tech businesswoman in the Bible. She became a Christian under Paul’s preaching, leading her staff to the Lord. Her name? Lydia from Thyatira.

We don’t know if Lydia was married, or a widow, but a husband is not mentioned and she is clearly an independent, wealthy businesswoman. Uncharacteristically for the day, she runs her own household and has control over her life and business. She has the freedom to invite Paul and his team to stay with her, indicating that she had a large home and servants to enable her to be hospitable as she chose. The church in Philippi met in her home.

Her business is most interesting. She is called a “seller of purple.” In those days, dying fabric to a specific color was not easy like it is today with our chemical dyes. The color purple was the most complex and expensive color so it was reserved for high-ranking Roman royalty. Purple was made from sea snails. It took 60,000 sea snails to make one pound of dye. And the process was technically complex – catching thousands of them, removing the vein containing the dye, adding a critical amount of salt and careful heating for as long as 10 days. It was a stinky, physically demanding process. Making purple dye was a trade secret of the Phoenicians. It was so expensive to make that purple dye was as valuable as silver. This puts a different light on the treatment of Jesus in Mark 15:17 when the Romans put a purple robe on Him and called Him the King of the Jews.

Lydia was from Thyatira. This region had a unique geographic position to control the production of purple dye and clean water to allow them to control the trade in purple cloth. Thyatira was the Silicon Valley of its day and Lydia was a leader in the business of selling purple.

We might ask why she was in Philippi? What brought this important businesswoman from the center of her production facility to this European city? We know that Philippi was an important city on the road from Istanbul to Rome, the Via Egnatia. So perhaps she was expanding her business into Europe. Obviously, she was a good entrepreneur who knew how to take reasonable business risks.

We know she become Paul’s first convert in Europe. We are told she was a “Godly woman” so it seems, though not Jewish by birth, she was seeking God through Judaism. Each Sabbath she and other women had a Bible study at the bank of the river. That’s where Paul met her. Perhaps God sovereignly orchestrated this business move to allow Lydia to seek God in a way she never would have in Thyatira. She clearly wasn’t an “obsessed” businesswoman, but one who balanced business with Godliness, hospitality and taking care of her staff.

Her home city is also interesting. Thyatira and Sardis are two of the seven cities mentioned in Revelation, but there is no record of Paul ever going to those two cities. The other cities show up as part of his missionary journeys, but not these two. It will make a delicious conversation when we get to heaven to find out how the church came to those cities. Did Lydia or her business have anything to do with it?

Godly Women in Business Today
As part of a conference a few months ago I was asked to speak about women in Missional Business. I saw four models in the Bible:

  1. Lydia as an example of a woman who does business on her own without a husband
  2. Pricilla does business in partnership with her husband
  3. Pricilla again who with her husband takes a non-family partner: Paul
  4. The Proverbs 31 woman who does business herself with her husband’s blessing

As I looked at the women I work with in business, I can see all four models. From my own family I see that all the women in my family do business – and have for several generations. Its what we do. It’s who we are.

Perhaps because I am a woman, more than 60% of the business people I work with are women. In research for the conference session in the US I looked at how women entrepreneurs fared in North America. It was a bit surprising:

  • 16% of Canadian SMEs are owned by women (51% ownership is required to be a women owned business)
  • 31% of US businesses are woman owned, that’s 7.7 million businesses generating 1.2 trillion dollars in revenues
  • Only 3.4% of Federal gov’t business loans and grants go to women owned business (which they are now working to correct)
  • By 2018, one-third of new jobs created in the US will be by women owned businesses
  • INC Magazine said that: Women entrepreneurs get just 19% of angel funding and about 6% of venture capital, making it much harder to build companies that can scale and succeed.
  • Women Entrepreneurs less likely to get capital than men (Gallup)
  • Forbes magazine listed 16 of the most powerful women entrepreneurs: 8 from Europe/US; 5 from China, 2 Hispanic, 1 from India

So women are definitely engaged in business. Since my session for the conference was about women in missions doing business I looked at the number of women IN missions to get an idea of the potential women entrepreneurs. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research said there were 4.4 million women serving internationally – about 60% of all missionaries. My own small survey of a few major mission agencies showed that a large percentage of those women are single: typically about 80% of single missionaries are women. So the potential of women, in and out of missions, doing Godly business to bless individuals, families and communities is very high. And yet, when I go to conferences, listen to the presentations, etc. it is mostly men. I wonder why we don’t show up. Why women seem invisible. Is it like the statistics above that we don’t get funding or the consulting and coaching that we need?

It certainly isn’t that we don’t have ideas or entrepreneurial drive. I’m working in a Central Asian country to teach business and help get businesses started. The person on the ground is a woman who is getting her MBA. A large percentage of the people we are working with are women. So I wonder: is it that having a woman involved makes women more comfortable? I know that when I speak at conferences, many women come to talk to me afterwards.

So, I would like to ask you who are reading this blog:

  • If you are a woman, how can we help you? B4B is very gender neutral and supports women. If you look at our consultants, many are women.
  • If you are a man, not only how can we help you, but how do you want to engage with women entrepreneurs?
  • What insight do you have for women entrepreneurs?

If these questions strike a cord with you, respond to this blog, or join B4B, look for the forum on Women in Business. I believe, like Lydia, women entrepreneurs make a difference in the spread of the gospel. What can we do to help you?


Dr. Nora

Please select the social network you want to share this page with:

We like you too :)

Click on any of the links to the left to let your friends know about what we are doing.

1 comment
  • Friday Links: Posts and Resources on Faith at Work – Business as Mission

    March 6, 2015, pm31 3:46 PM

    […] The Bible’s High Tech Business Woman – Business4Blessing […]

Enter the Discussion and post your Comment