Share This

Executive Summary

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

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: women account for only 18% of the top leaders in the U.S. across all sectors (White House Project Report: Benchmarking Women’s Leadership, 2009). Among non-profits, these numbers were higher, with women occupying 47% of executive leadership positions. However, we know very little about what religious organizations look like in terms of gender equity. A recent study of Jewish non-profits 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).

How well are women represented in leadership positions within evangelical institutions?
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 (Ridgeway 2011) we would expect even fewer women to be represented at leadership levels than in other organizations.

We propose a two-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 the larger nonprofit sector. In the first phase of this study, we will collect and analyze data on the level of gender parity within evangelical organizations, as well as the variance in institutional policies and culture. In the second (qualitative) phase of this study, we will examine some of the institutions that are most successful in efforts towards encouraging women in leadership, with the end of being able to establish best practices.

Central to this study is the application of such findings towards the larger evangelical community. Due to the connection with the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Gordon College, this findings will be publicized within the larger community, through press releases and news articles, publishing the results with a popular press, producing films for distribution, and convening a conference of evangelical leaders at the conclusion.