Study: Women of Color Face Systemic Challenges in Nonprofit Careers

A new report from the Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead program says persistent bias continues to hold back women of color from rising up the nonprofit career ladder.

Are women of color getting a fair shake in the nonprofit C-suite? A new study on that question answers with an unambiguous no.

Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector, an in-depth report from the Building Movement Project, surveyed more than 4,300 nonprofit employees to better understand the systemic issues at play that make it more difficult for minorities, particularly women of color, to move up in the ranks. Nearly 80 percent of respondents were women, and more than 40 percent were people of color.

“Although the survey data demonstrates that women of color face some barriers that are similar to those experienced by white women or men of color, the overlapping discrimination on the basis of race and gender places particularly acute burdens on many women of color,” the executive summary states [PDF].

Not even advanced levels of education are enough to overcome the barriers to senior leadership for women, according to the report. The research found that of those with a master’s degree or above, 57 percent of women of color and 59 percent of white women had leadership roles, far below the rates for men of color (71 percent) and white men (75 percent). Women of color with advanced degrees were more likely than others with the same level of education to work in administrative roles.

Women also earned less than their male counterparts, the study found. White women (15 percent) and women of color (19 percent), respectively, were least likely to make salaries of more than $100,000—compared to 38 percent of white men. Additionally, women of color were most likely to raise concerns about their salaries.

“Many women of color described working harder to overcome these barriers; not only is this an unfair burden, no amount of individual effort can be expected to translate into positive outcomes when an organization’s social landscape is fraught with bias,” the summary adds. “The nonprofit sector must make real changes to ensure a fair and supportive workplace environment for all workers, particularly for women of color.”

Women of color reported that “they were sometimes left out or ignored and sometimes hyper-visible under intense scrutiny, with both conditions creating burdens.”

The report calls for action in three areas: systems change, including advocacy for better enforcement of anti-discrimination laws;  organizational change to address internal bias and bring transparency to pay scales; and individual peer support for women of color in their industries.

In an article on the Race to Lead website, study author Ofronama Biu, a senior research associate at the Building Movement Project, said the usual organizational solutions aren’t enough to bring meaningful change.

“There are so many leadership training programs out there, and that’s wonderful, but that’s not the problem,” Biu stated. “You can’t out-educate or out-train organizations or systems [that] are that biased.”

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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