A new report published by Building Movement Project indicates that people of color in Massachusetts’ nonprofit sector face distinct barriers when attempting to ascend into decision-making roles, including lack of mentors, exclusion from networks of wealth, and assumptions about their skill and ability to raise funds.
The report, titled “The Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap in Massachusetts: A Race to Lead Brief,” sought to answer why there are few leaders and board members of color in the state’s nonprofit sector and what type of challenges they may face.
Researchers from the Building Movement Project analyzed more than 170 surveys from Massachusetts nonprofit leaders and staff and supplemented the data with a series of focus groups. The state’s data was also compared to nationwide data taken from over 4,300 surveys.
The results showed that respondents of color were slightly more interested than their white peers in pursuing leadership roles, with 71 percent saying they were definitely, probably or maybe considering leadership positions in the future, versus 64 percent of white respondents.
For those who responded that they do not have an interest in pursuing leadership roles, when asked why not, 38 percent of participants of color and 21 percent of white participants said they thought their skills are not well suited for an executive director role.
In Massachusetts, 41 percent of white respondents said their work-life balance priorities are not well suited for an executive director role compared to 19 percent of respondents of color who said the same thing. These results differed greatly from the nationwide data which showed an almost equal percentage (34 and 33 percent) between whites and people of color who responded that their work-life situation was not suited for a leadership role.
At the report’s launch event, hosted by The Boston Foundation last Monday, Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, co-director of The Building Movement Project, spoke in depth about the findings and methodology.
“We conducted interviews with dozens of people in the sector in all positions and when we did the survey, we tested out the assumptions from the interviews,” Thomas-Breitfeld said.
“There were not big differences in education between white and people of respondents,” he added.
Frances Kunreuther, co-director of The Building Movement Project, also talked about the findings, specifically about the results that showed 55 percent of respondents of color felt that their race had a positive impact on their career advancement.
“We were like ‘Whoa, where does that come from?’ So we did a focus group on that particular response,” said Kunreuther.
Responses from the focus group hypothesized why, despite the majority of respondents’ belief that their race plays a positive role and their interest in pursuing higher executive roles, there is proportionally fewer people of color in those roles.
“Everyone needs at least one of us in the room ... but when I started advocating for where I saw myself going professionally, that’s when I hit more roadblocks,” said a survey participant in a women of color focus group.
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