Over the last few years, I have participated in various state and local consortiums and work groups with other nonprofit leaders who are working to address poverty, systems change and various disparities across the region.
Noticeably absent is the presence of African-American women in executive leadership roles across these organizations. Many of our local nonprofits serve large numbers of minority populations but lack leadership that reflects the individuals and families served.
Diversity of voices from the top down in organizations dedicated to addressing complex social challenges is imperative.
I am very proud of our few local African-American female leaders in the nonprofit sector. However, over the last five years, I have watched a number of African-American female colleagues leave this community based on an inability to secure executive leadership roles that would allow them to continue to grow and impact the Rochester community.
One year ago, I began to implement my plans for career advancement to explore executive leadership roles in this community. Along with my years of leadership experience, community credibility, excellent recommendations and advanced degree, I hired an executive coach, obtained mentorship from experienced leaders of nonprofits and convened an executive-level mock interview team. After getting a “we can’t make a decision right now” and no call back until I inquired after five months, the harsh realities of what other colleagues had highlighted became clear — unconscious bias and structural racism is real in this community.
A June 2017 study by Building Movement Project and The Annie. E. Casey Foundation (Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap) noted: “To increase the number of people of color leaders, the nonprofit sector needs to address the practices and biases of those governing nonprofit organizations."
I also believe current leaders of local nonprofits are the ones who can take a stand for racial equality. Earlier this year Cecile Richards, former President of Planned Parenthood, called on white women to do better in the fight for equality.
Although I am no longer seeking an executive leadership position in this community, I did find my calling: to speak the truth and take a bold stand against structural racism and offer coaching opportunities to African-American and other women of color seeking or currently in nonprofit leadership roles.
What board members, stakeholders, funders, and community leaders need to know is that African-American women seeking leadership roles in this community are not looking for a hand-out or to meet a quota. Our experience, education, credibility and ability to cultivate relationships with donors or collaborative partners speak for itself. We simply want equal-opportunity to lead. Rochester we must not only do better, do what's right.
Sara Taylor of Rochester is President and CEO of Positive Steps Consulting.