This study of women “pioneer” priests in the Church of England was to gain further information on women in a non‐traditional, male‐dominated occupation. Uniquely prior to 1994, women were barred from entry to the priesthood altogether, and are still debarred from the top of the Church hierarchy.
A national conference for all Diocesan Advisers in Women's Ministry offered the opportunity of surveying 31senior and experienced women priests from across England. They completed an extended open‐ended questionnaire. Agreeing to take up these posts made these women somewhat self‐selecting and not necessarily representative. Also it would be useful to gather data on male clergy experiences for comparison.
Given their long bitter struggle to be ordained, these women were older, and had more experience than other women in non‐traditional occupations. They did experience a deeply gendered organisation, both through structural disadvantage and cultural hostility. However, most report that becoming a priest has impacted positively on their self‐confidence and positive identity. They see themselves making changes to the gendered regime of the Church, challenging what it means to be a priest through their presence, language, and symbols.
The findings of this study have important policy implications. The Church's recruitment and selection processes need to change to ensure openness, fairness and transparency. Family friendly policies need to be introduced, including flexible working and job sharing possibilities open to both women and men. Also, the Church needs to make clear its disapproval of discrimination and unacceptable behaviour towards women priests.
The paper provides information on women working in a non‐traditional male‐dominated occupation.
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