Executive Summary

Gender Parity in Evangelical Organizations Research Proposal
Principal Investigators: Janel Curry (Provost, Gordon College) and
Dr. Amy Reynolds (Sociology, Wheaton College)
With Neil Carlson, Center for Social Research (Calvin College)

Research Advisory Group
Dr. Pamela Cochran, Religious Studies, Sewanee University
Dr. Korie Edwards, Sociology, Ohio State University
Dr. Karen Longman, Higher Education, Azusa Pacific University
Dr. Ruth Melkonian, Political Science, Gordon College
Dr. Helen Sterk, Communications/Gender Studies, Western Kentucky University
Dr. Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Psychology/Gender Studies, Eastern University 

Project Overview
Previous work has documented that women in authoritative positions within evangelical organizations face a number of pressures. Julie Ingersoll’s Evangelical Christian Women (NYU Press, 2003) and Nicola Creegan and Christine Pohl’s Living on the Boundaries provide some on the ground examples. While both these studies rely on important qualitative data with women in a variety of evangelical institutions, neither of these provide macro level data analyzing the position of women in leadership positions.

Broader studies of gender parity within leadership reveal that the larger story within the United States is quite grim: even as women make up a majority of the workforce within the nonprofit sector, they are underrepresented within leadership positions. They make up 40% of the CEOs in nonprofits generally, and 43% of the board members. Within large nonprofits (those with budgets over $25 million), they hold 21% of CEO positions, and make up 33% of the board. It is also estimated that under 5% of women on these boards are women of color (Benchmarking Women’s Leadership, Colorado Women’s College, 2013). 

Private colleges and universities also experience a lack of gender parity. Women make up 26% of all college presidents, varying from 22% at doctoral institutions to 29% at associate degree granting institutions. When it comes to college boards, women make up 28% of board members, and 30% of board members at private colleges and universities (Benchmarking Women’s Leadership, Colorado Women’s College, 2013)

We are particularly concerned with how well women are represented within leadership within evangelical nonprofits and academic institutions, given the important role of both of these sectors within the evangelical world. We know little about how religion matters in these sectors. A recent study of Jewish nonprofits found these organizations suffered an even stronger case of gender disparity, with only 12% of executive leadership positions in non-profits occupied by women (Jewish Daily Forward 2010).

Given the ways that conservative evangelical theology and culture is often connected with stronger beliefs about gendered differences (Ingersoll 2003; Creegan and Pohl 2005), and the strong connection between gendered stereotypes and inequality in positions (Framed by Gender, Ridgeway, 2011) we expect even fewer women to be represented at leadership levels than in other organizations.

We are in the midst of conducting a three-phase study to both examine the status of women’s representation at the highest levels of leadership in evangelical institutions, as well as to investigate some of the institutional barriers (and supports) that are connected with gendered leadership outcomes. Of particular importance for this study are several sectors: evangelical academic institutions, campus ministries, the relief/development actors, and others within the larger nonprofit sector. Phase One of the study involves creating a landscape of the environment when it comes to women’s representation within the organizations. We collected 990 data from all the organizations with available data within our sample (1,481). This allows us to code the women serving as top leaders, other leaders, and board members. In Phase Two of the study, a survey was sent to 450 evangelical organizations, with individuals on the leadership team answering questions regarding their beliefs and attitudes surrounding gender, as well as the gender climate within their organizations. Results of Phase One and Phase Two are available on this website, and a report on these results is forthcoming.

In Phase Three of the study, which is currently underway, we are interviewing 30-50 leaders at the top performing organizations, in efforts to better understand the practices and policies that have helped these organizations promote and retain women in leadership. The end result will be a compilation of the best practices for those organizations seeking to promote opportunities for women within leadership.