Gender Parity Project Study Finds There Is a Lack of Women Leading Evangelical Organizations

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

One striking finding of the Gender Parity Project—the largest study to date of women leading evangelical organizations (nonprofits, not churches)—is that the men in such organizations identify as egalitarians. At least when it comes to women leading in society, writ large. Janel Curry, provost of Gordon College, and Amy Reynolds, professor of sociology at Wheaton College, found in their two-year study (funded by the Imago Dei Fund) that 93 percent of the men surveyed agreed with the statement, “Men and women have freedom to pursue their gifts and callings without regard to gender roles. Men and women should share leadership roles within society.”

So why do women hold 21 percent of board positions, 21 percent of paid leadership positions, and 16 percent of CEO positions in the evangelical organizations surveyed (about half the number of women leading nonprofits broadly)? Curry and Reynolds posit that, while a few organizations explicitly say they want only male leaders, or belong to denominations that do, the problem may be that most organizations say nothing at all. “At one point we tried to look at mission statements and strategic plans . . . and it was amazing how few clearly state whether leadership positions are open to both men and women,” says Reynolds. “Given the different views in the evangelical world on this, we found that fairly troubling, that you could not find that information out.”

Still, Curry and Reynolds say that most nonprofits surveyed want more women leaders, if for pragmatic rather than theological reasons. “When we went to the Christian Leadership Alliance (CLA) conference, there was really no defensiveness about this issue,” says Curry. “The response was, ‘Give us the tools. Tell us what we need to do to help women move into these positions.’ ”

The study itself doesn’t provide the tools, but it does identify a structural gap—and, Curry and Reynolds hope, provoke more organizations to be explicit about wanting women leaders. They spoke with managing editor of CT magazine Katelyn Beaty about their study, whose findings are being presented today at the Religion Newswriters Association conference.

To gauge the gender breakdown of these organizations, you used Form 990 data (tax forms), which asks organizations to list employees making more than $100,000, as well as board members and other key employees. Why use this metric to gauge something as broad as leadership?

Reynolds: We know that the measure of leadership we have is just a proxy for the measure we would ideally want, but we were most interested in having a study that measured as close to a full set of evangelical populations as possible. And since we knew we wanted 1,500 different organizations, we were looking for something that would be the same across them, which is what led us to the 990 data. On the 990, the leadership it lists is that over $100,000 [paid leadership positions] and board members. We also tried to code out non-leadership positions. But we went with that because we wanted a way to operationalize it, that we could do the study five years in the future and use the same metric, and use the same metric across organizations.

Curry: The $100,000 mark was merely there because the 990 tax form uses that, and we tried to compensate for that by looking at other data, because there are some religious traditions that would be paying less than that, so we tried to get them into the study.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Interview by Katelyn Beaty

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