November 22, 2017
 
Systemic Bias Stymies Diverse Leadership at Mass. Nonprofits

October 19, 2017 — A larger share of people of color working at Massachusetts nonprofits, compared to their white counterparts, want to lead their organizations, but overwhelmingly feel that boards of directors, which tend to be dominated by whites, don't support the leadership potential of people of color, according to findings from a survey released yesterday.

According to the survey, 49% of people of color working today at Massachusetts nonprofits, compared to 46% of white staffers, said they would like to lead their organizations. However, 88% of people of color said predominantly white boards often don't support leadership growth for staff of color. That compares to 62% of white respondents who feel the same way.

The survey also found that 77% of people of color, and 74% of whites, feel executive recruiters don't do enough to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates for top-level nonprofit positions in Massachusetts.

In addition, 74% of people of color and 50% of whites working at Massachusetts nonprofits feel their organizations often rule out candidates of color "based on the perceived 'fit' of the organization."

"Systemic and structural issues, not personal bias, block advancement for people of color," said Frances Kunreuther, co-director of the Building Movement Project (BMP), which conducted the survey, speaking to about 200 Massachusetts nonprofit leaders who gathered at The Boston Foundation for a briefing on top-level results.

Thirty-one percent of people of color working today at Massachusetts nonprofits want to leave the sector, compared to 7% of whites, Kunreuther said.

Among the 176 Massachusetts people participating in the survey, 60% self-identified as white, 23% as African American or Black, 6% as multiracial, and 4% as Latino or Hispanic.

Nationally, the percentage of people of color in the executive director/CEO role has remained under 20% for the last 15 years, even as the country becomes more diverse, BMP noted in Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap, which reported on survey results.

According to the survey, people of color to a greater extent than whites—37% vs. 23%—said lack of role models in leadership positions works against their professional advancement. In addition, 40% of people of color at Massachusetts nonprofits, compared to 6% of their white colleagues, said they feel they are asked to represent a community, which acts to inhibit their organizational advancement.

Trina Jackson, community engagement practice leader at TSNE MissionWorks, a Boston nonprofit that advises nonprofits, said "over-professionalization" of the nonprofit sector during the last two decades, which emphasizes educational credentials over on-the-ground experience, has worked against the advancement of people of color in nonprofits.

Deborah Re, president and CEO of the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, a Boston-based nonprofit that helps girls realize their potential by providing positive mentoring relationships with women, concurred, noting that requirements for credentials can stymy efforts to diversify staff.

Re said Big Sister decided to forego requiring a Master of Social Work degree for certain key positions after local graduate schools told her there weren't enough people of color enrolled in their programs to meet her demand.

Danny Rojas, director of postsecondary partnerships at OneGoal – Massachusetts, a Boston nonprofit that trains teachers in low-income public high schools to coach their students to college enrollment and success, expressed optimism that nonprofits can cultivate leaders among people of color, but that organizational commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion requires the full commitment of top leaders.

He and Jackson noted that a more diverse cadre of leaders will look and sound different from historically white, male leaders of European background, which may make traditional board members uncomfortable.

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