Research & Reports

Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector

women in office taking selfie

A new report following up on the ground-breaking 2017 Nonprofits, Leadership and Race Survey from the Building Movement Project shows that the nonprofit sector places particular burdens on women of color.

The 2017 research, a national survey of more than 4,000 nonprofit staff, found that people of color have similar qualifications as white respondents and are more likely to aspire to nonprofit leadership positions. The findings stood in contrast to the widespread assumptions that there are not enough people of color willing and able to lead. The report called on the sector to address deeply embedded biases and systematic barriers that make it harder for people of color to advance into leadership positions, despite being just as qualified as their white peers.

The new report, Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector, applies an intersectional analysis to the Race to Lead data by going beyond racial differences alone to also examine the impact of both race and gender on the aspirations, experiences, and career advancement of women of color working in the nonprofit sector.

The new report reveals that both white women and women of color in our sample face some similar barriers; they are less likely to be in executive positions in the nonprofit sector and are paid less than men of color and white men. However, the picture that emerges reveals that the sector places particular burdens on women of color.

“Lack of will or skill has little to do with why women of color are unable to adequately advance within nonprofit organizations,” said Tycely Williams, CFRE, vice president of development for the YWCA and chair of AFP’s Women’s Impact Initiative. “As substantiated in the new report, despite obtainment of education and credentials, women of color are often overlooked, usually underpaid and commonly criticized. AFP’s Women’s Impact Initiative is ushering in real and radical change. As a Black woman, I lead this work with an innate understanding of discrimination and an extreme commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity and access. We thank Ofronama Biu for authoring this report. The findings and proposed changes will certainly help to banish the burdens unfairly placed on women of color.”

Key Findings

  • Racial and gender biases create barriers to advancement for women of color. Women of color reported being passed over for new jobs or promotions in favor of others—including men of color, white women, and white men—with comparable or even lower credentials.
  • Education and training are not enough to help women of color advance. Women of color with the highest levels of education are the most likely to be in administrative roles and the least likely to hold senior leadership positions. Women of color also are paid significantly less compared to men of color and white men and more frequently report frustrations with inadequate salaries.
  • The social landscape within nonprofit organizations can create conditions that undermine the leadership of women of color. Women of color who reported that their race and/or gender have been a barrier to their advancement indicated that they were sometimes left out or ignored and sometimes hyper-visible under intense scrutiny, with both conditions creating burdens.

The report also explores key themes—based on survey write-in responses by women of color and from focus groups and interviews—among Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Latinx, Native American, and transgender women of color.

Call to Action

Many women of color in the nonprofit sector are highly skilled and want to lead, but the survey findings and focus group and interview reflections shared in this report identify significant obstacles and patterns of everyday discrimination that women of color encounter in the nonprofit workplace. The report calls on the nonprofit sector must make real changes to ensure a fair and supportive workplace environment for all workers, particularly for women of color. These changes include:

  • Leverage the power of philanthropy. Funders should increase their investment in organizations led by and/or focused on the issues impacting women of color, which will help elevate the leadership, perspective, and influence of women of color across the nonprofit sector at large.
  • Advocate for enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. The nonprofit sector should advocate for full funding of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is tasked with investigating charges of discrimination, even if this means uncomfortably turning the lens on itself.
  • Address internal biases. Nonprofits need robust and equitable human resources policies and systems that will ensure that racism, sexism, anti-trans bias, etc., will not be tolerated, and enforce real consequences for staff who violate those expectations.
  • Pay women of color fairly and create transparency around pay scales to expose discrimination. Organizations should ensure transparency regarding pay scales so that individuals with similar credentials and experiences are similarly compensated.
  • Create peer support affinity groups for women of color. Several industries have race- or gender-based affinity groups to encourage, support, and advocate for the inclusion and advancement of the constituency they represent. Peer support should be understood as a supplement to—not a substitute for—in-organization mentoring opportunities provided by supervisors and other senior staff, and increased grant investments in women of color-led organizations.

The full report can be found on the Race to Lead website.

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18 Apr 2019 Guides & Resources
18 Apr 2019 Guides & Resources
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