December 6, 2019
Report: Mass. Nonprofit Boards Show 'No Meaningful Progress'

April 12, 2019 — The largest 150 nonprofits in Massachusetts showed "no meaningful progress" in the number of women CEOs and the number of female board members in the last two years, and saw the number of members who are people of color decline, according to a report released today by The Boston Club.

On average, women hold 35% of the board seats, according to The Boston Club's 2019 census of women directors and chief executives of Massachusetts’ largest nonprofit organizations, the same percentage reported in three previous biennial reports.

Among the very largest organizations in the report, those with more than $500 million in annual revenue, the percentage of women on the board is even lower, 30.4%, while below that revenue point the percentage rose to 37.2%.

Eight organizations have increased the share of women on their boards since the biennial reports were first published: Elderhostel DBA Road Scholar, YMCA Greater Boston, Brandeis University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Gordon College, Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, Milford Regional Medical Center Inc., and Lahey Clinic.

Other key findings of the Census, produced by Simmons College, include the following:
  • The total annual revenue of the top 150 nonprofit organizations is more than $75 billion, a 3.3% increase over the 2017 Census

  • Gender diversity on boards varies significantly by industry sector, with the science, technology, research, and engineering sector organizations averaging only 25%, significantly less than the human services sector’s 46%

  • 39 of the 150 organizations have women CEOs, unchanged from the last census, despite CEO turnover in 18 organizations

  • 42 of the 150 organizations have women serving as board chairs

  • Only 10 of the CEOs of the 148 largest nonprofits were verified as people of color, a decrease from 15 CEOs in 2017

  • 21 of the census organizations have 50% or more women directors, 5 fewer than then the 2017 report

  • 89% of the 150 nonprofits have three or more women on their boards, a decrease from 94% in the 2017 report
According to the report, intentional actions, such as working with specific individuals helps them attain board leadership roles, but although "these nonprofit boards affirm support for increasing diversity, none report wholesale board restructuring to fill the gaps."

Based on interviews, report identified three key factors required to succeed in nonprofit board service:
  • Active management of entry onto the board, through observing and learning from other board members to understand the board dynamics, culture and location of the power; identifying personal knowledge gaps and proactively filling them as well as actively building strong relationships with board members outside of the meetings.

  • Seeking out and volunteering for highly visible projects and committees, to leverage strong skills to benefit the work of the board, as well as always insuring that work is valued by other members.

  • Effective strategies to overcome the challenges faced in a highly gendered context, where women are in the minority, working within a stratified structure and working within gender norms.

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