Women in Leadership National Study: A First Glance

In the past few years, a number of different empirical studies have come out highlighting how well women are represented in leadership across a variety of sectors (for example, the 2009 White House Project Report: Benchmarking Women’s Leadership and the 2013 follow-up Benchmarking Women’s Leadership report from Colorado Women’s College).  These studies look at a plethora of fields to assess how well women are represented in the highest levels of leadership across sectors.  While these studies are quite impressive in their scope, there is little attention to the ways that religion matters.  As the 2009 report notes,

Gauging the current status and progress of women in religious leadership is more difficult than in any other business and professional sector studied in this report. With such a multitude of faiths, little or no universality in definitions of leadership, and a marked absence of data to work with, analyzing women’s leadership in religion presents a significant challenge. during the preparation of this report, it was immediately clear that there is a dire need for increased and standardized data collection on the status of women in this field. While historical information is available, there is a dearth of hard numbers.

Since the fall of 2012, I have been involved with a mixed methods, multi-stage research project investigating women in leadership within evangelical organizations.  This study is one of the first to study women in leadership in religious settings outside the church.  As has been well-documented, the non-profit sector is filled with many religious organizations. Our study is comprised of 1500 organizations. This list is largely made up of members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, alongside those who are a part of  the Coalition of Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Accord Network, and the Christian Community Development Association. Although the study is on-going, I wanted to post some of the results that we have so far, as the first phase of data collection has been completed.

Supported by the Imago Dei Fund (under the leadership of Emily Nielson Jones), Dr. Janel Curry (Provost, Gordon College) and I serve as the co-PIs for this project;  Neil Carlson and the Center for Social Research at Calvin College have been responsible for collecting most of the data. Although there will be an official presentation and release of the data at the Religious Newswriters Association Conference this coming September, the results from our first phase of the study are now available (thanks to the team at CSR for the tableau interactive below!)

A few key findings (more information is also available at the study’s website):

1. Evangelicals have fewer women in leadership than secular counterparts. While this is not surprising, it is important to address.  This isn’t just about the people in top leadership positions — this is about those who are the top paid leaders, and it’s true about the board.  Of our sample of 1500 organizations, 1300 have complete data regarding their paid leaders and board members  who have list paid leaders and boards on tax-forms, 16% of the top leaders, 21% of the board, and 23% of the highest paid employees/leaders are female.  Compare this to the non-profit world more generally, where women make up 43% of the board and 40% of CEOS (Benchmarking Womens Leadership, 2013).

2. Our lack of gender diversity in leadership is tied to a lack of racial diversity. Among women who do serve on boards and in top leadership positions, white women are over-represented. Again, this is not surprising. But we also notice that religious institutions (as noted in their own reports and strategic plans) may often treat a lack of racial and gender diversity as very separate.  They are not.

3. Although we often discuss how bad evangelical institutions do at having men and women serving and leading alongside one another, one of the most interesting results for me has been the variation within evangelical institutions.  Scholars of religion know that orthodox faiths are often painted with broad brush strokes, and assumed to be bad for women.  For example, nearly a quarter of the organizations (24%) have no women serving on their boards, while a slightly smaller percentage (17%) have at least 40% women on their boards.  Some denominations seem to do especially well at promoting both men and women into all positions, while others do not.  One of the ultimate goals of the study is to uncover what factors predict more shared leadership among men and women, and the ways institutions foster more positive gender climates.

 

The Church, Immigration, and Advocacy

As I also wrote about last summer, August 15th marked an important change in immigration policy, when young adults without official documentation were able to apply for two-year stays in the country, without fear of deportation. Today we also face the possibility of a significant change to the system.  A bipartisan “Gang of 8” proposal for immigration reform was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill, which heads to the Senate next week, will provide a path to legalization and citizenship for a number of immigrants living in the country, as well as tighten security.

Immigration is an issue where most in the United States see a need to act. A recent Pew Report reveals that almost ¾ of U.S citizens polled think there should be legal options for those without legal status to stay.  Most identify it as a key issue facing the country.  At this time when significant reforms could be enacted, the voices of religious leaders are especially important.

The video above was produced by the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group of evangelicals and other religious activists. They  have received some recent attention in the news for their calls (and prayers) for bipartisan reform.  While I’m quite disappointed by the fact that the heads of the coalition are all male, there is a diversity of political leanings and racial make-up of the actors and organizations behind the movement.    Yet even as evangelicals are now engaged, other religious leaders have long been active in efforts to support immigrants in the United States. I’m particularly excited to read Grace Yukich’s forthcoming book, One Family Under God (Oxford University Press), which focuses on more progressive religious activities who are often not profiled. While white evangelicals tend to be noticeably absent from the activists she studies, many of the religious concepts these actors use could resonate with many in the evangelical population.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I increasingly encounter evangelicals considering (or involved in the process of) international adoption.  A majority of my students—mostly evangelical—have been abroad and involved with mission trips. As Christians continue to go around the world to love our neighbors, it’s imperative that we also more seriously consider what it means to love neighbors here in the United State. As this group that increasingly includes immigrants (documented and undocumented), the issue of immigration reform will impact the lives of millions.  Even for the most politically uninterested, this is an issue that demands our attention, prayers, and action.

Being Honest about Inequality

Last week, my daughter brought home a class worksheet where she had noted that Barack Obama was colorblind.  “What does that mean?” I asked her, only to be informed that it meant he thought people were equal, regardless of the color of their skin.  I told her that’s not exactly what being colorblind meant: that seeing people as equal does not mean ignoring race.  The topic then shifted to soccer and birthday parties.

Yesterday morning we had another interesting exchange before school, continuing on with this idea of people being treated equally, regardless of gender or race. She was making a statement regarding the past when people were not treated equally.

“People are still not treated equally.  Many people still treat boys better than girls, and white people better than black people.” I decided to limit some of the specifics, such as differential conviction rates, job call-backs, media portrayals, or pay inequality.

“But in North America, we treat one another equally?”

I shook my head no.

“In Illinois?” No.
In Wheaton?” No.
“On our street?” Sad laugh.

I suspect this moment was similar to those that many sociologists (and others) have had with their children, where they feel a responsibility to discuss things as they really are, despite a sort of innocence that seems to be destroyed. But we have to admit and teach our children that in the United States, people are not treated equally. Not simply in spite of the fact that such a reality is awful, but precisely because it is awful.  Pretending that we are viewing and treating each other equally only makes the situation worse.

As a Christian, I yearn to see the Church standing out for our opposition to the sexism and racism in our society.  However, given the fact I study issues of gender and religion, I’m almost reminded daily that my hopes don’t match reality.

Let me just note two recent statistics on gendered realities in the Christian community, recognizing that it’s not a monolithic community.

  • Within colleges that are members of the CCCU (Christian Coalition of Colleges and Universities), 6 out of 111 college presidents are female.  The data for this chart comes from recent efforts & research of the CCCU examining these gender discrepancies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • A blog post yesterday on Patheos listed the top 50 influential pastors on twitter.  While I won’t argue it should be the key measure of who holds influence in the Christian community, it’s still an interesting list.  (Impossible) Challenge: Find one female on the list.  (The author, Adrian Warnock, followed up the list with the top 20 female Christian bloggers, but none of these were senior pastors).

If we aren’t honest with our children, we do more harm than good. When my daughter (or someone’s son) sees the chart above, or hears her friends talking about those influential blogging pastors, it communicates something.  She sees that those with the most power, those leading and making decisions, and those heralded for their wisdom are predominantly male and white.  If she and other children believe in a meritocracy, such information suggests that men must be smarter or better at these things that women, or that white people are more competent and qualified than non-whites. That’s not true.

Some days it’s hard to move from one disappointing fact to another.  This morning, I followed the discussion with my daughter to one where we talked about abuse in families during my morning class, and the failure of churches to engage in structural justice efforts in my afternoon class.  Students probably left both of those feeling a bit deflated, much like my daughter appeared as she ate her cheerios.  I agree with Margarita Mooney’s blog post noting that sociologists can often concentrate on the negative, and that “describing social problems is not the equivalent of describing the conditions that promote human flourishing or foster the common good.”  Clearly, most of my day was not engaged in such a project.

But to move towards change, we have to be aware of what’s wrong.  And it’s never too early to help kids to see it. I believe that many in the world, and within the evangelical community, can often undervalue women for the ways that they might be involved in God’s radical mission for the world. But this is not the end of the story. As my daughter looked at me sadly when I explained the prevalence of inequality today, I did engage in some positive perspective.  I reminded her that God doesn’t view us that way.  Thanks to a class I took as an undergraduate with Dr. Robert Kiely on early Christian literature, I was also able to tell her that some of the earliest Christians drew the attention of others as they broke gendered norms in worship, following messages of gender equality that Christ preached.  As I saw her eyes twinkle, I smiled. I witnessed her hope for a broken world, a hope much more valuable than a childish innocence of sin.

The context of religion

I had the privilege to spend the last week at the 5th Latin American Conference on Evangelization (CLADE V in Spanish), sponsored by the Latin American Theological Fraternity (FTL). FTL is well known for its emphasis on integral mission, a Protestant response to many of the social, political, and economic problems occuring in Latin America during the 1960s and 70s.

Sociologists would classify most of the people at the event as conservative or evangelical Protestants.  The average participant reads the Bible regularly and takes a high view of its authority; she believes in  the power of the Holy Spirit to work in the world.  The group prioritizes the need to share ones faith and live the Gospel. Relationships are of central importance, both regarding one’s relation to God and neighbor.  Among the denominations represented were the Evangelical Free Church, Mennonites, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Assemblies of God, Christian Missionary Alliance, Baptists, the Christian Reformed Church and independent Pentecostals.

As studies of religion and political life reveal, theology often seems to matter inconsistently (or very little) when it comes to political and economic issues for the average person of faith.  Within the United States, for example, Kenneth Wald and Allison Calhoun-Brown (in Religion and Politics in the United States) show that socio-economic status (and history) are much more important that the theological beliefs of a group in predicting their political views on economic issues. In the United States, due in part to the upward mobility of this group, white evangelicals have tended to be more politically conservative regarding the economy (think of issues such as welfare or taxation policy). Yet among Black Protestants (also theologically conservative) and evangelicals across the Global South, this same connection is not present.  Increasingly, scholars are also separating Hispanic Catholics from other Catholics, as faith seems to matter in different ways for these different groups as well.

While social science data often seems to support the idea that theology and religious beliefs do not matter in any consistent ways when it comes to views of the economy, we should remember this does not mean theology is not important for the ways people engage and think about economic life.  As Hart found in the mid 1990s in his study of Christians in the United States (What Does the Lord Require? How American Christians Think About Economic Justice), people use their faith to develop ideas about economic life; yet people pull from different religious ideas, and those who worship together may arrive at contradictory conclusions. While many in the United States would still say theology doesn’t matter much when it comes to their economic views, for others, religious ideas are very important.

Sitting in a room with my Latin American sisters and brothers, I saw the social sciences played an important role, and I doubt few would have been surprised by any of the statements listed above.  However, they take such ideas a step further, arguing that theology itself is contextual.  So the issue may be less that one’s economic position takes precedence over one’s view of scripture in predicting certain political views, and more that economics has the power to deeply shape ones view of scripture and theology.

Many of the arguments I heard last week were uncontested, yet they were not ones you would hear at the typical megachurch in the United States. Access to water should not be bought and sold. No person is illegal. The high level of consumption many of us have is not a good use of the earth´s resources.  When abuse or exploitation happens, real justice demands responsibility for one´s actions.  These views are deeply theological, flowing from beliefs of most participants in the global South: that the image of God is in every person, that the Holy Spirit brings life where there is death, that solidarity with our sisters and brothers is a demand of the gospel, and that obedience to Christ is about a covenant with God and those around us.

Recognizing that context matters as it does should cause all people of faith to re-examine their own theologies and religious beliefs. Evangelicals of various political stripes in Latin America tend to see destruction caused by US mining efforts or manufacturing of weapons. Christians in the United States must at least seriously consider these claims (and our responsibility).  As I find in my own research, among Christians in the US who share some of these concerns, it is often those with connections with Christians abroad. That is, although their context is that of the global North, their perspective is shaped by those outside such a context. This seems to resonate with what Christian Smith and Michael Emerson (Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America) found over a decade ago when studying white evangelicals. It was those who were in networks with black Americans that were more likely to see systematic injustice– in this case, to recognize racism and discrimination as significant problems.

In an age of globalization, we have more chances than before to be a part of global networks, with those in different positions in the international system. How might we—here, I specifically mean people of faith within the United States—allow ourselves to think more critically about our own context and how it shapes our theology?  How might we think about issues like economic globalization (which tend to benefit many of us in the middle or upper class of the United States) as deeply theological ones? These are issues of life and death, as my brothers and sisters consistently confirmed last week. As people of faith, we can not afford to ignore the context of our own theologies.


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