Over half of female clergy in PCUSA report experiencing gender discrimination: survey

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) holds its 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 30, 2017. |

More than half of female clergy in the Presbyterian Church USA have reported experiencing discrimination on the basis of gender, according to a recently released survey.

In 2019, PCUSA Research Services conducted a 110-question survey of 4,495 ministers, or nearly a quarter of the mainline Protestant denomination’s total number of clergy.

In the “Discrimination, Opportunity, and Struggles of Leadership Report” based on the survey responses, researchers found that 58% of women reported experiencing gender-based discrimination in the denomination. By contrast, only 4% of male respondents reported the same.

Additionally, 63% of female clergy reported experiencing any kind of discrimination, such as age-based or race-based, which contrasted with the 21% of male clergy who reported the same.

Women were also more likely than men to report ethnic or racial discrimination. For example, while 70% of Asian women reported experiencing race-based discrimination or harassment, only 12% of Asian men reported experiencing race-based discrimination or harassment.

The one exception to this was among white clergy, in which 1.1% of white women reported experiencing race-based discrimination or harassment, but 2.5% of white men reported the same.

Female respondents were more likely than male respondents to report struggling with various aspects of leadership, including “Recognition for leadership abilities,” “Offensive comments,” “Not having work validated by others,” and “Low pay.”

“On every category, women responded two to three times as often as men that they personally struggled with that aspect of leadership,” stated the report.

The survey also found that 71.1% of women younger than 40 reported “difficulty being accepted as leaders,” and 42% of women said they were “overlooked for promotion because of their gender.”  

Sean Payne and Susan Barnett of PCUSA Research Services wrote on Monday that the overall report found that women, younger survey respondents and racial minorities all reported “experiencing discrimination or harassment more frequently than their counterparts.”

“While this conforms to what might be expected, the extent of discrimination reported may be surprising,” continued Payne and Barnett. “Racial or ethnic based discrimination or harassment is reported on a less prevalent basis than gender-based discrimination or harassment but is still significant.”

“Among respondents, 23% of Asians, 47% of blacks, 35% of Hispanic or Latino/as, and 21% of other people of color report experiencing race-based discrimination.”

The Monday study was the most recent entry in an eight-part series of PCUSA reports published weekly on research regarding various aspects of ministers' lives in the denomination.

The report was released a day after the anniversary of when, in 1956, Margaret Towner became the first woman ordained in the United Presbyterian Church in the United States, the predecessor denomination of the PCUSA. 

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