Thursday, June 15, 2017

Diversifying Leadership in Non-Profit Organizations

Photo Credit:
Global Partnership for Education - GPE
One of the greatest challenges facing non-profit organizations that are seeking to be ethnically diverse is understanding that it is not just about having a diverse staff. Having more ethnic minorities in the top levels of leadership is critical for organizations that are seeking to become more diverse. But a multitude of barriers often exist in turning this vision into reality.

A recent study by the Building Movement Project-- Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap -- illustrates that many attitudes about how a non-profit can increase its number of leaders of color might not be accurate.

Cyndi Suarez of NonProfit Quarterly comments on the findings:
"The report has a high-level message: “The results call into question the common assumption that to increase the diversity of nonprofit leaders, People of Color (POC) need more training. The findings point to a new narrative. To increase the number of People of Color leaders, the nonprofit sector needs to address the practices and biases of those governing nonprofit organizations.” 
In other words, while many investments in people of color leadership focus on training and other capacity building for people of color, the real need for capacity building is with the people who hire for executive leadership positions. 
Other studies have hinted at this. The Daring to Lead reports of 2006 and 2011 of more than 3,000 nonprofit leaders found that 82 percent of respondents were white. More recently, in BoardSource’s 2015 Leading with Intent report of non-profit boards, 89 percent percent of respondents identified as white. For over a decade now, survey reports consistently show that less than 20 percent of nonprofit executive leaders are people of color."
The report indicates that while it is important to intentionally focus on the development of leaders of color -- just as that is important for any emerging leader -- much greater emphasis needs to be placed on the development of non-profit leaders in the areas of cultural intelligence. In many non-profits there are structural and organizational barriers that limit the opportunity for ethnic minorities to advance in leadership.

Here are some of the specific conclusions drawn from the report:
› It’s NOT about Differences in Background or QualificationsPeople of color and white respondents have similar backgrounds in education, position, salary, and years working in the nonprofit sector. 
› It’s NOT about a Lack of AspirationsPeople of color aspire to be leaders more than white respondents. For those who do not aspire to leadership, most—across race—are looking to maintain work/personal life balance. But people of color who are not aspiring leaders are more likely to be looking for jobs outside of the nonprofit sector. 
› It’s NOT about Skills and PreparationMost aspiring leaders thought they had the qualities needed to be a good leader. When asked about the training they received, people of color and whites had few differences in the areas of financial skills, goal setting, articulating a vision, advocacy, and collaboration. People of color were more likely to see themselves as visionary and able to relate to their target population, but less ready to fund raise than whites. 
› It IS an Uneven Playing FieldThe majority of aspiring leaders feel prepared to take on an executive role. However, over a third reported they want more technical and management skills, with POC respondents identifying this need more often than whites. People of color were more likely than white respondents to see race/ethnicity as a barrier to their advancement. 
› It IS the Frustration of “Representing”All respondents have challenges, but people of color are significantly more frustrated by the stress of being called upon to represent a community. They are also more challenged by inadequate salaries, the need for role models, lack of social capital/networks, and the need for relationships with funding sources. 
› It’s NOT Personal, It IS the SystemRespondents across race squarely identify the lack of people of color in top leadership roles as a structural problem for the nonprofit sector. They believe that executive recruiters and boards could do more to diversify leadership. Whether due to bias or other factors, respondents of color were more likely than whites to agree it is harder for people of color to fund raise. They also were more likely than whites to see barriers to people of color advancing either because of smaller professional networks and/or the need for more training.
For leaders like myself that serve in predominately white non-profit organizations, it's especially important for us to realize that much of the work that needs to be done in becoming more diverse starts with us. If we as leaders have a myopic perspective on leadership and don't possess the understanding of cultural contexts other than our own, we will continue to create and perpetuate structures and systems that prevent some of the very things we say we want to see happen.

You can download the full report here.


Unknown said...

Scott, this is great insight. I agree whole hardheartedly. In addition, non-profit organizations like ours tend to select the ethnics in leadership that are least resistant while getting ride of those who will tell the truth. The system and attitudes remain while the leadership continue "window dressing". You may have notice how little ethnics have participated in recent major decisions that affect the ministry at large. This have been observed by major influential ethnic leaders out side our ministry. Some have withdrew their financial support and participation. Yet non-profit organizations like ours continue aggressively make make changes while missing the main point. All they have to do is interact with the other ethnics who have been around many years with a proven history in these matters. I just don't trust these ministry leaders anymore. But I love and respect them. I am appalled but applause them for their efforts.
Thank you again.

scottmcrocker said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Tom. Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes - even recent ones - and chart a better course for the future. Scott