Race to Lead Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector



Date of Publication
February, 2019

Highlights from New Report

The Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead is a series that seeks to understand why there are still so few leaders of color in the nonprofit sector. This report looks beyond race alone to also examine the impact of both race and gender on the aspirations, experiences, and career
advancement of Women of Color working in the nonprofit sector.

Key Findings

  1. Racial and gender biases create barriers to advancement for Women of Color.
    • Women of Color report being passed over for new jobs or promotions in favor of others with comparable or even lower credentials.
    • Many respondents in this survey said that their race and ethnicity helped them relate to — and better serve — their communities.
  2. Education and training are not enough to help Women of Color advance.
    • Among survey respondents with advanced education, Women of Color were more likely than work in administrative roles and the least likely to hold senior leadership positions.
    • Women of Color also are paid less and more frequently report frustrations with inadequate salaries.
  3. The social landscape within nonprofit organizations can create conditions that
    undermine the leadership of Women of Color.
    • Women of Color who reported that their race and/or gender have been a barrier to their advancement indicated that they were sometimes left out or ignored and sometimes under intense scrutiny, with both conditions creating burdens.
    • Regular feedback and performance evaluations were some of the more common forms
    • of career support reported by survey and focus group participants. Yet People of Color were the least likely to receive regular feedback and performance evaluations.
  4. Participants often noted a downside to feedback and evaluation processes: Women of Color are often evaluated through biased lens. Research has shown that performance evaluations generally lack objectivity and fail to guard against negative stereotypes.

Further findings in the report can be found specific to API Women, Black Women, Trans Women of Color, Latinx Women, and Native/Indigenous Women.

Necessary Organizational Change

  • Address internal biases. Organizations should address both conscious and unconscious biases that affect the mentoring, feedback, evaluations, and overall treatment of Women of Color. Organizations must engage beyond anti-bias training to include robust and equitable human resources policies and systems that will set an expectation that racism, sexism, transphobia, etc. will not be tolerated, and also enforce real consequences for staff who violate those expectations.
  • Pay Women of Color fairly and create transparency around pay scales to expose inequality. Organizations should establish transparency regarding pay scales to ensure that individuals with similar credentials and experiences are similarly compensated.
  • Create peer support affinity groups for Women of Color. The focus groups BMP conducted demonstrated eagerness among Women of Color in the nonprofit sector to connect and support each other. Peers can be effective mentors, and many committed to staying in contact with each other to do just that.
  • Peer support must be intentionally structured and supported. Peer support should be understood as a supplement to — not a substitute for — in-organization mentoring opportunities provided by supervisors and other senior staff, and increased grant investments in women of color-led organizations.

Resources on Other Websites

Notes and References

Biu, O., "Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector." (2019) Building Movement Project.