April 30th, 2017

The report from Liz Graveling, published in April 2016 is available by clicking the link to the right of this page. The summary of the research findings are below:

Purpose and method

Purpose: to investigate patterns in how clergy move through ministry, with a focus on identifying factors inhibiting women from taking up positions as incumbents of large churches (usual Sunday attendance of at least 350), given that, at the end of 2015, only three of 112 such churches in the Church of England were led by women.

Method: Statistical analysis of the current dataset of leaders of large churches, and 22 individual semi-structured interviews with a range of ordained ministers, comprising 11 men and 11 women, including five male and two  female leaders of large churches, plus two female leaders of churches with a usual Sunday attendance of 300-349. As most large churches are Evangelical, participants were mainly from the Evangelical sector.

Factors contributing to the gender imbalance

Time-lag: it has taken an average of 14 years for existing leaders of large churches to reach their current post after ordination. Barriers faced by women in the 1990s in particular have also contributed to an overall time-lag effect.

Discrimination, based on principles of stable gender differences, including transparent discrimination within the Five Guiding Principles and both formal and informal discrimination in the context of selection, job applications, parish life, collegial relationships, job availability and HR policies.

Social processes, shaping gendered social and family roles as well as differences in confidence, self-identification with leadership roles and vocational development.

Incompatible social roles and working conditions, mostly relating to childcare responsibilities and precedence of the husband’s career or ministry, combined with incumbencies of large churches being exclusively full-time.

Organisational structures and dynamics: leaders of large churches are most likely to be clergy who are full-time, stipendiary, geographically deployable, Evangelical and ordained young, with postgraduate education (possibly from Oxbridge), a strong churchmanship identity, experience of serving within a large church (probably as a curate), support from their spouse or elsewhere and no major childcare responsibilities. Many of these are areas in which women encounter structural or processual obstacles, whether related to the Church or to wider society.


Monitor equal opportunities and recruitment processes in dioceses.

Develop and share good practice among dioceses regarding maternity and childcare policies, and part-time and job- share posts in large churches, including for clergy couples.

Explore and encourage ways of developing women’s ordained ministries, including young female vocations, vocational counselling, support structures, and title posts in large churches.

Work with para-church networks where they appear to be supporting and developing female ministers.

Further research into: recruitment processes for senior posts in large churches; the relationship between families and ordained ministry; the vocational pathways of female senior clergy; the vocational pathways of Evangelical female ministers; women’s experiences in para-church Evangelical networks.