by Michele Weldon

June 22, 2020

This article was originally published on Take the Lead Women.

Nonprofits in this country are failing on their diversity and inclusion efforts, even as their missions address social justice and fairness issues, according to a new report of more than 5,000 workers in nonprofits.

“The sad — but unsurprising — truth is that people of color and whites have a different set of experiences in nonprofit organizations. This gap in how professionals experience their workplaces — whether they receive mentorship, are granted promotions, or face microaggressions — is partially reflected in what we call the ‘white advantage,’” write Frances Kunreuther and Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Co-Directors of the Building Movement Project, and authors of the report, Race to Lead Revisited: Obstacles and Opportunities in Addressing the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap.

“This advantage becomes even more visible when comparing what nonprofit professionals reported about working for white-run organizations that have board members and senior leaders who are 75 percent or more white against groups led by people of color where more than 50 percent of the board and leaders are people of color,” according to the co-directors.

For the third year, the Building Movement Project produced the Race To Lead report and “revisited: obstacles and opportunities in addressing the nonprofit racial leadership gap.”

According to one survey respondent, “I don’t believe I’m taken as seriously in the workplace because I am a young woman of color. I often question things, which doesn’t always go over well in majority-white organizations. I’ve been used as a ‘token’ brown person.”

According to the report, “Many nonprofit organizations are dedicated to supporting and empowering communities that have limited resources and influence due to systemic and structural inequalities. As part of this commitment, a growing number of nonprofit organizations are reflecting on how societal inequities are replicated in their own organizations.”

The survey shows that 11% of nonprofit workers responding are Latinx/Hispanic; 1% are Native American/Indigenous; less than 1% Arab American, 8% report as Multiracial; 15% as Black/African American 8% as Asian American; and 59% white.

Twenty one percent of respondents identify as LBGTQ, identical to the 2016 sample. In the 2019 dataset, 81% of respondents identified as women compared to 78% in 2016, with three percentage points fewer men (16%) and the same percentage (3%) identifying as gender non-conforming.

“The lack of diversity in nonprofit sector leadership was not a reflection of the qualifications or ambition of people of color, but the result of racialized barriers that inhibited their leadership ambitions, from lack of support by white boards of directors to the biases of executive recruiters,” the report states.

The report shows, “A higher percentage of people of color answered that race/ethnicity was negatively impacting their career advancement and a higher percentage of white respondents reported that their race/ethnicity was a positive factor in their career.”

“To increase the diversity of nonprofit leaders,” the report recommended that the sector shift its focus away “from the individual qualifications or goals of emerging leaders of color and toward addressing the systemic bias in the sector that prevents their advancement.”

Nonprofit organizations are defined by a pervasive and systemic white advantage, a term used in this report to describe the concrete ways that structure and power in nonprofit organizations reinforce the benefits of whiteness.

White-run organizations are those in which the board and staff leadership is more than 75% white; POC-led organizations in which more than 50% of the board and staff leadership are people of color; and All Other organizations with leadership configurations in between the other two categories. Notably, the All Other category also skews significantly toward leadership demographics that are predominantly white. Among these three organization types, almost half of survey respondents worked in White-run organizations, followed closely by All Other organizational configurations, and a much smaller share of survey respondents worked in POC-led organizations.

People of color in White-run organizations where the board and staff leadership is more than 75% white, reported the least positive experiences compared to people of color working in the two other organizational categories of POC-led with 50% of board and staff as POC; and all other organizations.

LaTasha Do’zia, who founded the nonprofit Selah Theatre Project in 2012 to encourage young people in the Northern Shenandoah Valley to express themselves artistically, told the Winchester Star, “If you’re [an African American] working with a nonprofit that is not specifically for black or brown children, it’s a lot harder. People say, ‘We have this white counterpart to what you’re doing, so we don’t need to invest in you.’”

The Race To Lead report shows white-run organizations are more likely to have larger organizational budgets than those led by people of color. Also, white people in the sector are more likely than peers of color to have another source of household income, more likely to receive additional pay from their nonprofit employer like bonuses or cost of living increases, and less likely to support other family members outside their household.

The report states, “Extensive DEI efforts among nonprofits seem to have resulted in increased awareness of race and equity issues among both respondents of color and white people compared to the first survey, but there are substantial differences in how people of color and white people understand the role of race in the nonprofit world. Overall, the increased awareness of race and equity has yet to produce measurable change in the racialized experiences of people.”

Kimberly Perry, Executive Director of DC Action for Children, writes recently in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “I ask you to take the time this week to reckon with how philanthropy’s action or inaction has perpetuated and enabled structural racism. Then use your voice and take anti-racist action daily, not just when there is another Black person killed for all of the world to see.”

The Race To Lead survey shows 48% of POC in 2019, compared to 56% of white respondents, say they received mentoring at their job during their career. The groups least likely to have internal workplace mentors were women of color and gender nonconforming people of color (47% and 39% respectively.)

A lack of role models was also a problem for many POC, increasing from 39% in 2016 to 42% in 2019. White respondents reported a decrease from 27% in 2016 to 23% in 2019.

The new report states, “Almost half (49%) of people of color surveyed in 2019 reported that their race/ethnicity had a very negative or slightly negative impact on their career, compared to 35% in 2016. Among white survey respondents in 2019, 67% reported their race/ethnicity had a very positive or slightly positive impact on their career advancement, compared to 50% in 2016.”

“More than half (57%) of survey takers overall reported working for organizations in which less than 25 percent of board members are people of color. Similarly, 58% of respondents reported that their organization’s top leadership was less than twenty-five percent people of color. Among the two categories that constitute the less diverse half of the four-category scale, 81% of survey takers reported that their organization’s board is more than half white, and 75% of respondents reported the same about their nonprofit’s leadership team,” according to the 2019 Race To Lead report.

The report suggests five opportunities or strategies to improve fairness and equity in nonprofits:

  1. Focus on Structures and the Experience of Race and Racism. Do not discount the experiences of people of color in the workplace. Structural analysis of race and racism, especially for white-dominant groups, is a critical foundation for race equity work. When successful, these efforts place racial issues in historical context and illustrate how the systems that underpin everyday life are inherently biased. However, focusing on structural racial issues will only be meaningful if coupled with efforts to understand and validate the individual and collective experiences of people of color in nonprofit organizations and institutions.
  2. Policies Have Meaning ...If Enforced. Groups committed to DEI efforts often take on work to examine and change organizational policies to reflect the organizational commitment to equity. This might include policies on equitable salary or improving anti-discrimination procedures. It is essential to consistently model and reinforce the organization’s commitment to racial equality.
  3. Put Your Money ... Organizations led by people of color simply need more funding. To interrupt the cycle of replicating the inequities the sector is committed to fight, funders need to examine their own practices to understand and change why groups led by people of color are so rarely provided the resources they need to grow and thrive.
  4. Reflecting the Community: Racial Diversity in Action. Although survey responses indicate that many organizations want to diversify staff and board of directors, respondents overwhelming worked for groups led by white leadership and boards. Recruiting and retaining racially diverse staff and board leaders requires setting and meeting targets for bringing on candidates, instituting effective onboarding and support for new staff and board members, and being willing to shift power — that is, to listen to the observations and recommendations of staff and board members of color, and to change the organization’s policies and practices accordingly.
  5. Responsibility and Results. Diversity, equity, and inclusion requires an ongoing commitment and investment in tangible change. If an organization is committed to a DEI process, it must establish thoughtful and measurable ways to assess progress based on a widely-shared plan for what should change, who is responsible, and how results will be documented, such as setting benchmarks and surveying staff and board members about their experiences. Transparency of results and organization-wide annual reviews can help guide course corrections and the establishment of ongoing goals.

Even with these results of stark inequities, the report shows 74% of respondents reporting that their organization has undertaken work on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and there is an effort throughout the sector to better understand and reflect on race and racism.

“Continued progress will require addressing the persistent racial gap in these experiences, as illustrated by white people reporting more support and fewer challenges than people of color,” the report states.

“Just as the sustained protests in the United States and around the world in the wake of the unjust killings at the hands of police officers of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and far too many Black people have focused our collective attention on systemic issues and racial disparities, nonprofits — and philanthropy in particular — must also use a structural analysis when examining the racialized gaps,” write Kunreuther and Thomas-Breitfeld, in Philanthropy.

“Now is the time to move from talk to change.”