Women and Leadership in the Church

Dr Liz Graveling

Why are women underrepresented in senior leadership roles? It’s well recognised that barriers to women are also prevalent in other settings outside the Church. The report on Women and Leadership in the Church by Dr Liz Graveling gathers together insights from gender and management literature by reviewing research investigating gender imbalances in senior management beyond the church.

In 1977, Rosabeth Kanter published her seminal text on the workings of a large American industrial company: Men and Women of the Corporation. It portrays a workplace where bosses are men and their secretaries are women, where senior managers’ wives belong to the company almost as much as do their husbands, and where female professionals are scarce and face barriers of isolation and stereotyping invoked by their token status.

36 years later, Alison Wolf’s 2013 study of professional women in the 21st century could almost be describing a different planet. Women are represented in significant numbers at the senior end of almost all professions; in fact, there is far greater equality and integration at the top of the workforce than at the bottom. With regard to finances and lifestyle, graduate women have less in common with their non-graduate sisters and more with their elite male counterparts.

Neither of these studies makes any reference to the Church of England, yet both are highly relevant: the first because Kanter’s industrial corporation bears many echoes of the Church into which women and men are ordained today, and the second because Wolf’s very different world is the one in which the same men and women live.

To the delight of some and the distress of others, the Church of England is undergoing a revolution in its positioning of women. After centuries of male leadership, women were admitted to the priesthood for the first time in 1994 and to the episcopate twenty years later. Roughly equal numbers of men and women are now being ordained each year; in January 2015 the first female bishop was consecrated, and women are being appointed to Archdeacon posts at a faster rate than men.

Despite these changes, there remains a strong gender imbalance at both the bottom and the top of the informal ecclesial hierarchy. At one end of the scale, while women made up 46% of candidates recommended for ministry in 2013, only 22% of candidates in the under-thirty age group were female. At the other end the difference is even more striking: of the 177 churches with a usual Sunday attendance of at least 350, exactly three are currently led by women. Why should this be the case? This paper draws together insights from the literature on gender and management in order to provide a deeper understanding of the specific context of the Church.

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The Ministry Development team completes research from both church and world perspectives as a component of its work to further ministerial development. For further information about Ministry Development please visit the website at http://www.ministrydevelopment.org.uk/.