Nonprofit boards should be more diverse than this group, but too often they’re not. dotshock/Shutterstock.com
Although this movement has mostly directed attention to work-related abuses involving white women since it hit critical mass in 2017, it also speaks to me as a black man because of the racial discrimination I personally experienced many years ago as a nonprofit CEO.
Today, I blame that predicament on the lack of leadership diversity on my nonprofit’s board, a widespread problem I now research as an academic scholar. Imbalances of power create opportunities for the people who have historically called the shots to abuse their authority – whether that means paying people of color less than whites for the same work or committing the kinds of outrages that the #MeToo movement and its offshoots are now bringing to light.
Here’s the big picture: At a time when only 61.3 percent of Americans are white, about 84 percent of nonprofit board members are in that demographic group, along with 90 percent of nonprofit board chairs. When BoardSource, which strives to improve nonprofit management, released this data in 2016, it predicted little progress:
“Despite reporting high levels of dissatisfaction with current board demographics — particularly racial and ethnic diversity — boards are not prioritizing demographics in their recruitment practices.”
In 2016, 90 percent of U.S. nonprofit chief executives and board chairs and 84 percent of board members were white, versus 61.3 percent of the country's population.
The leadership ranks of nonprofits are, it turns out, a bit more racially and ethnically diverse than their corporate counterparts. Yet I believe nonprofits typically have more of an imperative than private companiesto get this right because of their missions.
In 2016, 96 percent of Fortune 500 board chairs and 86 percent of those corporation's board members were white, versus 61 percent of the country's population.
This matters because boards of directors supervise the nation’s nearly 1.6 million nonprofits, providing financial oversight and strategic guidance. In addition, they help with fundraising and hire and manage the group’s top staffer. Most board members are volunteers.
Nonprofits, such as medical research institutions, houses of worship and shelters for sexual abuse victims, usually fill gaps between what the government and private sector do. A large share of them serve communities with great needs, a population that is disproportionately made up of people of color.
Strangely, nonprofit decision-makers seem to either not understand or believe that relying on overly white leadership is at odds with their missions.
My own experience illustrates the travails that leaders of color may experience within nonprofits.
After spending nine years working for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the nation’s largest youth mentoring organization, I was thrilled to move from its national headquarters in Philadelphia for a job as its temporary CEO of its Austin, Texas, affiliate.