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January 25, 2021
Boston Area Cultural Boards Remain ‘Overwhelmingly White’

November 29, 2020 — Although the lack of people of color in senior positions at Massachusetts nonprofits has attracted growing attention in recent years, and especially this year following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, the boards of trustees at mid- and large-sized cultural institutions in Greater Boston remain “overwhelmingly white,” according to The Boston Globe.

“While the vast majority [of nonprofit boards] are overwhelmingly white, there are exceptions,” The Globe noted in an article published today. Perhaps the most noticeable exception is the Museum of African American History in Boston, which has a board that is more than 70% Black.

Although some organizations have been working on diversity issues longer than others, “arts leaders across the city acknowledged they have a long way to go when it comes to board diversity, perhaps the most challenging — and consequential — aspect of becoming more inclusive,” The Globe reported.

Last month, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, elected Edward E. Greene as president of its board, the first Black person to be named to the post.

White composition of boards at Greater Boston cultural institutions, according to The Globe, currently is as follows:

(For the American Repertory Theater, nine of the board’s 40 members declined to specify race, The Globe reported.)

Brian Kennedy, director and CEO at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, was quoted, “We have been brought face to face with the structural issues within our institutions that need to be addressed. It’s been a time of reckoning for all of us.”

The lack of diversity among nonprofit board members trickles down to the same among staff. According to The Burden of Bias in the Bay State: The Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap in Massachusetts, a major report sponsored by The Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation released last month, found that 74% of Massachusetts nonprofit boards are engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.

However, the report found that while nonprofits know how to improve diversity, people of color as well as whites working in nonprofits feel decision makers lack the will to make changes.

An earlier version of the report, published in 2017, noted that 88% of people of color working in Massachusetts nonprofits 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.

Nonprofit HR, based on a survey of 566 nonprofit organizations across North America last year, noted, “Lack of diversity on nonprofit boards is especially concerning because developing a diverse leadership team, recruiting and retaining a diverse staff, and serving stakeholders with diverse needs and backgrounds are all significantly more challenging with a homogenous board.”

It added that “Developing truly diverse and inclusive boards is a critical step” toward achieving sustainable nonprofits that operate in an ever more challenging political and social climate.

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