Project 3:28 have published their latest research into gender balance among the speaker teams of UK national Christian conferences.
In 2014 two conferences had a 50:50 balance, the BUGB Annual Assembly and the Church and Media Conference. Also, notably, the Youth Work summit has been in second place for the last two years with an almost 50:50 balance. The Baptist Assembly alsos rank top among ‘the events that have improved most since 2013’.
I’m delighted that progress is being made in Baptist life, but we must not relax just yet. In Baptist life this change is largely the result of appointing Lynn Green as our General Secretary as well as deliberate and intentional moves to ensure diversity across the Union (which is wider than gender). Such action has been necessary but that it remains necessary is indicative of an unresolved problem. I’ve been in situations where a group has turned to one of its number and said ‘you will need to be our representative because we need to send a woman’. Certainly this helps towards gender balance but hardly affirms the person who is chosen because of her gender rather than her gifts or abilities. It is also disheartening for others (particularly white, middle aged, middle class men) who can feel that however good and gifted they are, they will not be included simply because of their gender. [Though please note this was not the case with Lynn’s appointment, where she was one of a number of well suited candidates, and was widely felt to be the best person for the role]
We need actions that ensure we recognise and encourage a wider range of people so that the pool of people involved in ministry, leadership, conference speaking is sufficiently diverse that balance at conferences would be achieved simply by inviting a range of speakers.
There are cultural and sociological barriers that mean that we will need to keep working on this for some while yet. But I long for the day when conferences have gender balance simply because they invited the best people to speak on a particular subject and not because the organisers had to use positive discrimination to make sure they included diversity