Baptist Women in Ministry released its 2021 Report on the State of Women in Baptist Life on June 21.
This two-part report explores the experiences of women in ministry, assesses congregational support of women in ministry, and provides a statistical overview on trends relating to women in ministry.
“The survey captures the complex experiences carried by women in ministry today with recognition that women are not monolithic,” BWIM Executive Director Meredith Stone writes in the report’s introduction. “Women’s personal experiences in ministry have ebbed and flowed over the years in incredibly complex ways.”
In detailing the obstacles common for women in ministry, the report reveals that a strong majority (86%) of women in ministry surveyed have experienced “obstacles to their ministry because of their gender.”
A majority (59%) of the same women reported that they have been “overlooked and silenced in their ministry settings.”
The text of the report explains, “While the systems that prevent women from breaking through the glass ceiling exists in most fields of work, women in Christian ministry face unique challenges when they are met with theological beliefs systems that dispute their capacity for leadership.”
Forty-two percent of women surveyed answered that they are not allowed to perform certain ministerial tasks on account of their gender; almost half (49%) revealed that they are not paid equally when compared to their male counterpart(s).
Daily examples of gender discrimination in ministry settings surfaced in the report as well.
A majority (59%) of women surveyed said that their judgment had been questioned in their area of expertise, while 67% of women surveyed answered that men have interrupted or talked over them in meetings.
A similar majority of women (66%) reported having been mistaken for someone at a lower professional level.
The report also found that “women of color often face more barriers and discriminatory practices than white women.”
When asked survey questions such as, “My leadership is misunderstood as bossy, angry, controlling, or unlikable,” “My work contributions are ignored,” and “I hear/overhear demeaning remarks about me or people like me,” women of color consistently answered “yes” at higher frequency than white women.
In response to the question, “Have you personally experienced sexual harassment, misconduct, or assault in your ministry setting,” one in four (25%) respondents answered, “yes.”
An additional 6% of respondents said that they were “not sure” whether they had experienced sexual assault or harassment while working or serving in their ministry setting.
Despite encountering obstacles, Baptist women in ministry also report instances of thriving.
Given the opportunity to leave a comment at the end of the survey, one respondent wrote, “Surveys such as this highlight how much changes with age. My ‘seat at the table’ is much more secure now than earlier in my career, and the stark disparities I saw with gender have leveled off quite a bit.”
Part two of the report, which provides an overview of “The Statistical State of Women in Baptist Life,” demonstrates an increase of women in almost every area of ministry, even when factoring in the decrease in female ordinations associated with the pandemic.
Furthermore, a strong majority (87%) of women surveyed said “their congregation’s/context’s support of them as a woman in ministry had a direct impact on their ability to thrive.”
The conclusion of the report offers suggestions for Baptist churches to implement in order to better support women in ministry.
These suggestions range from promoting theology that “uplifts the value of women and girls,” to facilitating open discussions about sexual assault and harassment and increasing the visibility of women serving in all areas of ministry in order to remedy the “disconnect between how well Baptists think they are supporting women in ministry and the reality of women’s experiences in their settings.”
“Baptists have made incredible progress in making their congregations and ministry settings the kind of places where women can be welcomed and affirmed. The obstacles exposed by this survey do not negate that progress,” the report concludes. “Along with the struggles, women carry the joys of purpose, support, affirmation, and love from the spaces and the people they serve. However, there is still work to be done.”
The full report is available here.