Press Release September 19, 2014

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National Study Finds Evangelical Nonprofits Lagging in Leadership Opportunities for Women, but Bright Spots Show Possibilities for Change 

Contact: Kelly Hughes, 312-280-8126

The number of women in leadership positions at evangelical nonprofit organizations significantly trails that of secular nonprofits, according to a new national study. “Evangelicals don’t come close—we’re doing about half as well,” says Amy Reynolds of Wheaton College, one of the principal researchers for the Women in Leadership National Study (WILNS). The good news is that there are several organizations that are creating a balanced gender climate, with healthy representation of women on boards and in leadership.

The Women in Leadership National Study, an ambitious, first-of-its-kind study, was launched earlier this year, led by researchers from respected evangelical academic centers Gordon College and Wheaton College, in partnership with the Center for Social Research at Calvin College. The study’s advisory group includes leaders of some of the largest evangelical nonprofits in the country, such as World Vision and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Two phases of the three-part study have been completed, with findings presented at the Religion Newswriters Association Conference in Atlanta on September 19.

WILNS found that overall, women hold a mere 21% of board positions, 19% of paid positions, and 16% of CEO positions at organizations included in the study. 24% of the organizations studied have no women on their boards at all, though 16% have boards made up of 40% or more women. Other key findings include:

  • Both evangelical women and men share the egalitarian view that women should lead in the workplace and in the broader society (although there are more mixed feelings when it comes to church and home).
  • Many female leaders do not feel supported by their colleagues, and face other constraints at work and in the church. However, women are sticking it out, staying even in the organizations where being a woman in leadership is tough.
  • Women and men both are often confused about exactly where their organization stands on gender parity. Organizations need to more clearly state their gender policies and attitudes towards gender equity.

The first phase of the three-part study examined women’s representation at the highest levels of leadership in more than 1,400 organizations, including members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, the Accord development network, and the Christian Community Development Association. Phase Two surveyed leaders in a subset of those institutions, to better assess the gender climate and perspectives of men and women in leadership.

An important goal of the study is to present a vision for cultural change and provide insights for developing future leaders. To that end, WILNS will highlight those organizations where things are going well for women. The study’s third phase will include one-on-one interviews with 30-50 people from institutions that have demonstrated successful approaches to creating gender-balanced workplaces, to document best practices in the evangelical community.

While evangelical organizations are making progress, moving in the same direction as those in the broader study conducted by the Benchmarking Women’s Leadership project, they are still lagging well behind the broader academic and nonprofit world. However, even in the broader academic and nonprofit world, women are underrepresented in leadership, accounting for 40% of the CEOs in nonprofits, and 26% of college presidents. The results of WILNS underline how far evangelicals have to go, but they are not alone in needing to work towards gender parity.

More information about WILNS, methodology, and the data results is available at

About the principal researchers:

Amy Reynolds, Wheaton College
Dr. Amy Reynolds is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Wheaton College, where she also is the coordinator of the Gender Studies Certificate Program. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from Princeton University, an M.P.P. in public policy from Georgetown, and her B.A. in sociology from Harvard University. Before joining the Wheaton faculty she was a Visiting Fellow at Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies. She also worked for World Relief in El Salvador (2002- 2003) investigating the coffee industry and alternative markets. Dr. Reynolds’ publications concern the sociology of religion, international political economy, and the sociology of gender. Her book, Free Trade and Faithful Globalization: Saving the Market (Cambridge University Press), is coming out in Fall 2014.

Janel Curry, Gordon College
Dr. Janel Curry serves as the Provost of Gordon College, and holds a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Minnesota. As the chief academic officer at Gordon, Dr. Curry leads an intellectual community of scholars and teachers in 20 academic departments. She oversees numerous academic programs, provides guidance to curriculum needs and pedagogy, and helps connect faculty with specific grant and scholarship opportunities. A scholar in geography and environmental studies who has published extensively in the area of human-land relations. Dr. Curry was also a two-time Fulbright Scholar, based at the City University of Hong Kong.

Dr. Reynolds, Dr. Curry, and advisory board members are available for interview.
Please contact Kelly Hughes, 312-280-8126 or .

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