May 25, 2019
Study Spotlights Gap in Racial Leadership at Mass. Nonprofits

April 2, 2018 — Massachusetts nonprofits are falling short in providing leadership opportunities to qualified people of color, and people of color perceive fewer opportunities to advance within those organizations, compared to peers in other states, according to an analysis released today.

According to The Nonprofit Leadership Gap in Massachusetts: A Race to Lead Brief, released by The Boston Foundation (TBF), "a new approach is needed that places the emphasis not on changing people of color, but on addressing deeply embedded biases that make it harder for people of color to advance into leadership positions, despite being just as qualified as their white peers."

The report, based on input from more than 170 Massachusetts nonprofit leaders and staff in connection with research conducted last year by the Building Movement Project, found that:
  • People of color were slightly more interested than their white peers in pursuing leadership roles, with 71% saying they were definitely, probably, or maybe considering leadership positions in the future, compared to 64% of white respondents.

  • Aspiring leaders of color in Massachusetts nonprofits were more likely to face a lack of encouragement and a lack of mentorship opportunities as they sought higher levels of responsibility in the nonprofit sector: 35% of people of color said they had mentors in their own organization, vs. 52% of white respondents.

  • Leaders also face fundraising challenges that their white counterparts don't: 53% of people of color, compared to 31% of white respondents, agreed that “People of color–led organizations have a harder time fundraising.”

  • While nearly three-quarters of white and people-of-color respondents said executive recruiters don’t do enough to find diverse pools of candidates for top positions, people of color were more likely to see a lack of support from boards of directors for the leadership potential of people of color, and more likely to feel minority candidates get eliminated for not being the “right fit” for organizations.
“The Massachusetts results offer a sobering confirmation that we must do more than just talk about more diverse leadership in the nonprofit sector – we must dismantle the very real barriers to success that leaders of color face, which have been systematically put in place over time,” said Jennifer Aronson, TBF associate vice president of programs.

The new report provides additional detail on survey results released last October that found systemic bias stymies diverse leadership at Massachusetts nonprofits.

According to the newly released findings, people of color perceive fewer opportunities to advance, compared to their peers in other states. For example:
  • 54% of people of color in Massachusetts, compared to 45% nationally, said they have few opportunities for advancement.

  • 53% in Massachusetts, slightly more than 51% nationally, said their salary was inadequate.

  • 31% in Massachusetts, compared to 21% nationally, said they were pursuing opportunities outside the nonprofit sector.

  • Only 35% in Massachusetts, compared to 43% nationally, said they had mentors at their job or in their organizations.

  • 88% in Massachusetts, compared to 71% nationally, said predominantly white board of directors often fail to support the leadership potential of staff of color.
To address the obstacles, researchers recommended the following:
  • Foundations should review their grant making and ensure appropriate levels of investment in POC-led organizations.

  • Nonprofits should work together to identify and support aspiring leaders of color, provide pathways and networks for aspiring leaders of color to take on new challenges and find new roles, and provide greater support for staff development and transitions.

  • Massachusetts nonprofit leaders need to make race equity a top priority in their organizations, particularly on their boards, and white leaders should speak up on behalf of race and race equity.
National findings were based on survey responses from 4,000 people.

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