Christian conferences are improving their gender balance, but only just
Figures released today show that gender balance is improving among speakers at major Christian conferences in the UK, though only marginally.
Compiled for the Project 3:28 group which campaigns for gender equality within the Church, the report provides statistics on the gender of speakers at 21 Christian conferences, including New Wine, Word Alive, Hillsong, Greenbelt and Soul Survivor.
The report compares figures from the past three years, concluding that the overall improvement in gender balance across events between 2014 and 2015 was just one per cent, with 12 events demonstrating an improvement in gender parity. Between 2013 and 2014, the rise in equality of representation was nine per cent.
In 2015, the event with the most balanced speaker platform was the Baptist Assembly, with 26 men and 24 women speakers (52 and 48 per cent).
In second place was the Church and Media Conference (47 men and 53 women), which was one of two conferences to have more female than male speakers; the other was Youthwork Summit, with 38 men and 62 women. A statement from Project 3:28 said each conference "demonstrated a clear commitment to highlighting the gifts and expertise of women".
The conference with the worst stats for equality was Northern Ireland's New Horizon conference, which had 36 male speakers and just four female; a 90/10 per cent split.
The report does note that ranking events in percentage terms does not take account of their relative size – an event with only four speakers, one of whom is female, would score 25 per cent, for example.
It also points out that organisers of Greenbelt, which ranked fourth for gender representation (56 men and 44 women speakers), said that if its wider arts programme (and not just talks) were taken into account, "things equal out and even tip in favour of female representation. But we understand you're only looking at the talks end of the programme."
Spring Harvest, meanwhile, proactively contacted Project 3:28 with data and "are actively seeking to create a balanced platform". This year, it had 68 male speakers and 42 female.
Though overall improvement across events between 2014 and 2015 was just one per cent, the actual number of women speaking at conferences has more than tripled since 2013. In total, there were 107 women speakers across the conferences in 2013. In 2015, this rose to 452.
The number of male speakers has also risen over the three years, from 325 to 815.
Natalie Collins, a gender justice specialist and part of the Project 3:28 collective, said: "It's great to see Christian events committed to increasing gender parity on their platforms; that the statistics show a slight rise from 2014 is positive.
"For events that have a theological commitment to the equal gifting and calling of women to leadership positions there's still a long way to go, but hopefully these statistics, as with previous years, will inspire event organisers to be intentional in inviting, including and equipping women."
Speaking to Christian Today, Collins added that though it could be disappointing to see that improvement in gender representation has slowed, it serves as a reminder that "when it comes to diversity, it's not something you can rest in, and think that's a job well done. It requires a constant effort and vigilance; it can't be a one time effort. We're working against so many attitudes, beliefs and expectations, it has to be about vigilance and making a concerted effort, year in and year out."
Collins also said that gender balance was vital in representing the Church as God intended. "As Christians, we believe that God made men and women in his image, and so the fullness of the body of Christ will not be represented unless men and women are represented on the platform, and across all forms of Christian ministry," she explained.
"Platform ministry is not the only or most important ministry, but the full body of Christ is found in men and women taking equal and active roles in the Church."