Nonprofit Sector, Heal Thyself: Gender and Racial Inequities Persistent and Pervasive

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NPQ and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) have a call for papers that is closing tomorrow, asking for people under 40 to submit their thoughts on equality, diversity, and inclusion. To motivate you to contribute, or to urge a younger colleague to do so, we present to you a small collection of findings of studies on gender and racial diversity. We know that this is an incomplete view of those who are for one reason or another marginalized, but we think it is important to gather the weight of these stats from many different studies and fields together.


A few days ago, NPQ ran a feature on the fact that one study found that in social enterprises, women CEOs make 29 percent less than male CEOs. This gap is, in fact, larger than the 23 percent gap in the general economy. So much for those institutions so enthusiastically lauded as the wave of the future.

Then, the day before yesterday, GuideStar released its annual compensation survey for 2013, which found that “Median compensation of females continued to lag behind that of males when considering comparable positions at similar organizations. The gap ranged from six percent for CEOs at organizations with budgets of $250 thousand or less to 23 percent at organizations with budgets between $2.5 million and $5.0 million.” In organizations at the highest budget levels, there has been some increase in the proportion of women to men in CEO positions, but women still make up only 18 percent of the CEOs in organizations with annual budgets higher than $50 million.

It’s infuriating, of course. Add to this the gender makeup of boards as reported by BoardSource last year, which reflects a similar dynamic regarding budget size: “At small organizations, 80 percent of board members are over 40; at medium-sized ones, 85 percent, and 90 percent at large ones. A similar proportional dynamic exists regarding the gender of board members: small, 52 percent female; middle, 47 percent; large, 40 percent.”

GuideStar does also mention that since 2003, the percentage of female CEOs has actually decreased, and though at the higher end of that scale the number of female CEOs have increased, only 18 percent of organizations with budgets of more than $50 million have a woman CEO.

An excellent report released on the eve of International Women’s Day last year, done by the Association of Art Museum Directors in collaboration with the National Center for Arts Research, found a similar scene there, as we wrote then:

Only 42.6 percent of art museums in the United States and Canada are led by women and that when women are appointed, they earn 79 cents on the dollar paid to male peers. […] The museums where women have achieved parity are small and midsize where annual budgets are less than $15 million. In these museums, women actually make $1.02 on the dollar paid to male counterparts. In museums with budgets higher than $15,000, slightly less than a quarter of leadership positions are held by women, and even then, they make 71 cents on the male dollar. As the museums get larger, the number of women in leadership lessens—at 33 art museums with annual budgets over $20 million, only five, or fifteen percent, are run by women. Thus, disparities are driven by the largest museums.

To make matters worse, in terms of racial equity and inclusion, BoardSource found that a full 80 percent of board members and 90 percent of board chairs in their sample were white, as were 89 percent of the executives. A study we covered the other day regarding diversity on the staffs of alternative media outlets found that the rates of racial diversity in those sites, many of which consider themselves to be liberal or progressive, were actually declining.

That relatively limited study of the alternative press mirrors the findings of another more comprehensive study of environmental organizations, which found a similar dynamic, as we reported at the time:

Progress in gender diversity was possibly the most encouraging, but even there, where the percentage of women in leadership positions and on the staff of environmental organizations has increased over time, white women have made the preponderance of the gains, and men remain more likely to occupy the most powerful positions in environmental organizations. A full 70 percent of the presidents and chairs of the board of conservation/preservation organizations are male and, as is the case in museums, the larger the organization, the bigger the discrepancies. Ninety percent of the presidents of the largest conservation and preservation organizations were male. Men also occupy the majority of the top leadership positions in environmental grantmaking organizations, with 76.2 percent of the presidencies being filled by men.

The state of racial diversity in environmental organizations looks even worse, with the proportion of ethnic minorities on the board or general staff not exceeding 16 percent in any of the three types of institutions studied. For the conservation/preservation nonprofits, the percentage of ethnic minorities on boards was 4.6 percent and the percentage of ethnic minorities of staff was 12 percent. Additionally, ethnic minorities tended to be concentrated in the lower ranks and occupy less than 12 percent of the leadership positions. Not one of the largest conservation and preservation organizations has a president who belongs to an ethnic minority, but the smaller conservation and preservation organizations were less racially diverse than the largest. Ethnic minorities and people of multi-racial backgrounds make up about 38 percent of the U.S. population. Ironically, in the government agencies, the greatest proportion of ethnic minority staff in any position (66 percent) was seen in the position of diversity manager.

And in terms of those museums again…

According to a report on a survey just released by the Mellon Foundation, the Association of Art Museum Directors, and the American Alliance of Museums, approximately 60 percent of the staff positions at U.S. museums are filled by women. This gender diversity extends up and even expands through the curatorial, conservation, and education roles often seen as pipelines to top leadership positions. Ethnic minorities, on the other hand, were found to fill only 28 percent of staff positions, and those minorities were dominant only in janitorial and security positions.

In some of these reports, the strategies for increasing diversity were reported to be largely lackluster, especially where racial diversity was concerned. That is why we are approaching this joint YNPN/NPQ project with the hope that new ideas and insights will incite new action. From the call for papers:

Over the past few years, it has become clear that many young leaders think, analyze, strategize, and act differently than older leaders around issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. Those differences need to be surfaced and understood in personal, organizational and political ways. In fact, our lived experiences are the result not just of our race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, class, age or work status, but the result of the dynamic and sometimes conflicting experiences of the intersection of these identities in our lives and work.

Recognizing that this moment in time is marked by an increased attention to those dynamics and an increased openness to understanding them newly, the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and the Nonprofit Quarterly are collaborating on a series of articles that explore issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion from the perspectives of younger leaders in communities and organizations.

You can access the full call here. Meanwhile, GuideStar has a research project going with the D5 Coalition on diversity in the sector and it needs your support.