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Executive Summary

Missional Effectiveness—Women in Leadership Executive Summary (PDF) ➔

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, Theology, Loyola University Maryland
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. Such work includes Julie Ingersoll’s Evangelical Christian Women (NYU Press, 2003) and Nicola Creegan and Christine Pohl’s Living on the Boundaries (InterVarsity Press, 2005) 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.

Studies of women in leadership in the broader society—spanning across the business, nonprofit, and educational sectors—have analyzed some of the obstacles that women face in holding leadership positions. For women in the United States, gender equality in leadership is still a challenge. Women make up a majority of the workforce within the nonprofit sector, but continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions. They make up forty percent of the CEOs in nonprofits generally, and forty-eight percent of board members (BoardSource 2010). Within large nonprofits (those with budgets over $25 million), women hold twenty-one percent of CEO positions and makeup one-third of the board. By best estimates, less than 5% of nonprofit 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 twenty-six percent of all college presidents, ranging from twenty-two percent at doctoral institutions to twenty-nine percent at associate degree-granting institutions. Women make up twenty-eight percent of board members at public colleges and universities, and thirty percent of private institutions (Benchmarking Women’s Leadership).

Though research on women in leadership is relatively widespread, little of this research has differentiated among secular and faith-based organizations. Until this study, we knew little about the role that religion plays in these sectors, even as the nonprofit and educational sectors have significant numbers of faith-based organizations.

In this study, we argue that even as women are underrepresented in leadership positions in the church, churches alone are not the only or central religious actors. Religious organizations, especially evangelical Christian organizations—the focus of this study—are numerous and active in everything from providing social services to leadership development to education.

We have conducted 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 involved 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. This allowed us to code the women serving as top leaders, other leaders, and board members. In Phase Two of the study, evangelical leaders at over 100 organizations answered survey questions regarding their beliefs and attitudes surrounding gender, as well as the gender climate within their organizations. A report on Phase One and Phase Two of the data is available to download from this website.

In Phase Three of the study, we interviewed 88 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 is a compilation of the best practices for those organizations seeking to promote opportunities for women within leadership, which can also be downloaded from this site.