Women of Color Face Racial, Gender Barriers to Nonprofit Advancement

Women of Color Face Racial, Gender Barriers to Nonprofit Advancement

Women of color in the nonprofit sector face systemic barriers to professional advancement over and above those faced by white women and men of color, a report from the Building Movement Project finds. 

Based on a survey of more than forty-three hundred nonprofit staff and focus groups involving over a hundred participants, the report, Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector, found that 49 percent of women of color aspired to a top leadership role in their organization, compared with 54 percent of men of color, 43 percent of white men, and 40 percent of white women. Yet thousands of respondents described being passed over for new jobs or promotions in favor of others — including men of color, white women, and white men — with comparable or lesser credentials. At the same time, the report found that women of color who worked in POC-, immigrant-, or other identity-based organizations were more likely to say their race/ethnicity had a positive impact on their advancement (41 percent), compared with those working in non-identity-based organizations (29 percent). 

Neither education nor training ensures equity in advancement, the report found, as women of color with advanced degrees were less likely than men of color, white men, or white women with advanced degrees to hold senior leadership positions and more likely to work in administrative roles. Among those with advanced degrees, women of color (19 percent) were far less likely than white men (38 percent) or men of color (29 percent) to earn at least $100,001, although more likely to earn a six-figure salary than white women (15 percent). 

The survey also found that the social dynamics of nonprofits often do not support or nurture the leadership of women of color. Women of color who reported that their race and/or gender have been a barrier to professional advancement said they were sometimes left out or invisible — and were less likely than others to be assigned a mentor or receive feedback and performance evaluations — while at other times they were hyper-visible and subject to intense scrutiny, questioned about their decisions, and confronted with negative stereotypes. Women of color also were less likely (33 percent) to report that they had received support through "peer support group meetings" than white women (37 percent), men of color (42 percent), or white men (42 percent). 

To address these and other barriers, the report calls on the nonprofit sector to make changes at the systems, organizational, and individual levels, including supporting organizations led by women of color and efforts to elevate the leadership, perspective, and influence of women of color across the sector; advocating for the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws; addressing internal biases and equitable human resources policies and systems; paying women of color fairly and creating transparency around pay scales; and creating peer support affinity groups for women of color.

"In response to the Movement for Black Lives and the struggles for the rights of indigenous peoples and immigrants, nonprofit leaders have become more adept at talking about intersectionality, anti-black racism, and de-colonization," said Building Movement Project co-directors Frances Kunreuther and Sean Thomas-Breitfeld. "[B]ut the Race to Lead data shows that nonprofit organizations need to dramatically change more than the words we use on our websites and in our grant reports. Real change means re-shaping the hierarchies and power structures in the nonprofit sector, the ways organizations behave, and how they treat their staff, particularly women of color."

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"Building Movement Project Releases Report on Race and Gender in Nonprofits." Building Movement Project Press Release 02/05/2019.