by Rev. Leigh Goodrich
In spring, 2017, a General Desk Audit was requested by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
The results showed some promising advances for women as compared with a similar audit performed in 2007.
Before we review the trends, there are some notable caveats in our comparison to the 2007 numbers.
This year’s audit does not include responses from Wespath. Also, the Office of Christian Unity
and Interreligious Relationships no longer exists. However, United Methodist Women and the Connectional
Table were new participants in 2017. These changes predictably skew some of the comparisons, however
we still find that general agencies lead the denomination in the promotion of women in their workforce.
Let’s look at the results.
Women, who make up 58% of total United Methodist membership, also fill almost half (46%) of general secretary
positions. If we were to include Wespath, this statistic would be 50%. Also, more than half
of the key leadership positions in the general agencies are women. This includes direct reports
to general secretaries (59%) and managers (63%). Moreover, a whopping 88% of the lawyers and accountants
employed by our general agencies are women. (See Table I).
2017 General Agency Desk Audit Employment Summary
Report to G.S.
This compares favorably to our 2007 audit. At that time, only 4 of 13 general agencies had a female
general secretary, and just over half of agency executives (52%) and managers (59%) were women.
Professional women filled 69% of the legal and accountant positions.
In a pattern similar to that seen in secular society, we continue to find a predominance of women filling
administrative and clerical positions. In 2007, women filled 77% of the administrative positions
in the general agencies, and today that number has risen to 85%. Similar to the cultural context
of the United States, and perhaps because of the vocational training women receive, they continue to
disproportionately fill administrative and support positions.
Women and the boards
Just as we reported in 2007, women continue to occupy a majority of the positions in the four major boards
of The United Methodist Church, which include the General Board of Higher Education (76%), the General
Board of Church and Society (74%), the General Board of Global Ministries (72%) and the General Board
of Discipleship (61%). Interestingly, the two general boards with female general secretaries also
employ the most women. However, those positions are largely administrative and clerical.
More specifically, one third of Church and Society’s most senior positions, and 100% of their administrative/clerical
positions are occupied by women. Similarly, 20% of the most senior positions at Higher Education
and Ministry are filled with women, while women hold 93% of administrative and clerical positions.
If we compare these agencies to the General Board of Global Ministries, we see a smaller percentage of women
employed overall, however, women make up 63% of senior positions and 86% of administrative and clerical
Women and the commissions
General boards tend to be larger bodies than the general commissions. A board is designed to carry
out an assigned function for an indefinite period of time. As a result they tend to be larger than
a commission, which is tasked with a specific function for an indefinite period of time (See
703.2 & 3,
The 2016 Book of Discipline). With this in mind, let’s look at the commissions.
The smaller commissions include the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, whose workforce is
100% female, as it was in 2007, and United Methodist Men, whose workforce is 25% female, as it was in
2007. This is an appropriate trend for commissions employing 6 and 8 people, and mandated to empower
women and resource men, respectively.
Similarly sized commissions include Archives and History that employs women in technical and administrative
positions, while the Commission on Race and Religion fills 75% of its staff in senior positions with
women, and the Connectional Table that employs women in all three of their senior positions with women.
For the purposes of our analysis, we consider the General Council on Finance and Administration, United Methodist
Communications, United Methodist Publishing House, and United Methodist Women as a separate group because
of their uncharacteristically large sizes. United Methodist Women, like the General Commission
on Women, appropriately employs women in all of its senior positions. Both Finance and Administration,
United Methodist Publishing House, and United Methodist Communications staff over half of their senior
positions with women, 57%, 50%, and 67% respectively.
Where do we go from here?
Despite changes in those reporting between 2007 and 2017, the general agencies of The United Methodist Church
have made clear and significant strides over the past decade toward bringing women into full and equal
responsibility and participation in their leadership. Most stunning is the shift of women general
secretaries who make up 50% of general agency leadership, up from 31% in 2007. Almost 7% more women
are now direct reports to general secretaries, and women managers have creeped up from 59% to 63%. Women
also make up the greatest number of professionals, filling 88% of the positions in 2017, compared to
69% in 2007. This attests to the importance of professional training for women’s advancement.
While we might expect some of the data to skew toward women’s greater involvement with the addition
of information from United Methodist Women, clearly their participation is not the sole factor in some
of the advances we continue to see in general agency leadership. It is also significant that women
make up the greatest number (85%) of administrative workers in the agencies, a traditionally female role.
Perhaps in 2027 we will see movement toward equal numbers of men and women in those roles as well.
While The United Methodist Church, whose membership is 58% women, has made efforts to empower women throughout
the structures of the denomination, it is clear that the general agencies lead the way in hiring and
promoting women. In 2017, women make up 64% of the general agency workforce, with more women than
ever in the most senior positions. This compares with 27% of clergy, 28% of bishops, 34% of district
superintendents, and 36% of General Conference delegates who are female throughout the denomination.
Overall, we conclude that our general church agencies continue to be leaders in promoting women’s
leadership in The United Methodist Church.
2017 General Board of Church and Society
2017 General Board of Discipleship
2017 General Board of Higher Education
2017 General Board of Global Ministries
Council on Finance and Administration
2017 General Commission on Archives and History
2017 General Commission on Race and Religion
2017 General Commission on the Status and Role of Women
2017 United Methodist Women
2017 United Methodist Men
2017 United Methodist Communications
2017 Connectional Table
2017 United Methodist Publishing House