Report: Philanthropic Field Struggles With Diversity at Executive Level

A new report from the Council on Foundations finds that while the sector tends to have a strong level of diversity overall—both with female and minority employees—it tends to be a bit weaker in the C-suite.

The state of diversity at philanthropic organizations is better than most other sectors, but a new report from the Council on Foundations makes the case that there’s still plenty of room for progress.

The State of Change: An Analysis of Women and People of Color in the Philanthropic Sector points out that there has been little movement on the diversity front over the past decade, especially after the senior level.

According to the report, women represent more than three quarters of professional positions in the philanthropic sector in 2015, around 57 percent of CEOs, and 60 percent of executives overall. While this represents progress —in the initial 1980 edition of the study, 77 percent of professional positions were male—the council noted in a summary that the rate suggests that “there remain potential obstacles to leadership.”

The numbers, compared to a decade ago, aren’t showing much in the way of growth. A 2006 data set found that the workforce was made up of 75 percent women and 25 percent men—meaning that the growth in the 2015 survey was very small. Additionally, racial and ethnic minorities represented 24.33 percent of employees, an increase of 1.68 percent from 2006.

However, the results showed a clearly diverse philanthropic sector.

“The overall racial/ethnic makeup of the employees represented in the 2015 data set are more in line with the demographics of the overall U.S. labor force,” the report [PDF] stated. “And when compared to the overall population, college graduates, and the U.S. labor force, women are now over-represented, and, broadly speaking, seem to have found opportunities for employment within philanthropy.”

The problem that the council sees is that this progress on diversity is not being reflected at the executive level, with 12.4 percent of executives being minorities and 55.1 percent being women.

“The representation of women and racial/ethnic minorities decreases as you move from the administrative level, to the professional level, to the executive level staff,” the report states.

In a news release, Council on Foundations President and CEO Vikki Spruill noted that this lack of progress has been troubling.

“Our report raises important questions about why there hasn’t been more change in the diversity of our institutions in recent years, despite the steps taken to create a more diverse and inclusive philanthropic sector,” Spruill stated. “The retention and development of a diverse talent pool is critically important as the demographics of our nation continue to change. We hope this report will spark a robust dialogue about what works and what we can do to make progress in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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