Building Movement Project Releases Report on Race and Gender in Nonprofits


For Immediate Release: Feb 5, 2019

Report finds that racial and gender biases, not lack of experience or talent, blocks advancement for women of color

(New York, NY) – The Building Movement Project (BMP) today released a new report, Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector, which examines the impact of both race and gender on the career advancement and experiences of women of color working in the nonprofit sector. Based on data from more than 4,000 survey respondents, this latest report in the Race to Lead series shows that women of color encounter systemic obstacles to their advancement over and above the barriers faced by white women and men of color.

Some key findings include:

  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—including men of color, white women, and white men—with comparable or even lower credentials.
  2. Education and training do not provide equity. Women of color with advanced education were more likely than men of color, white men or white women to work in administrative roles and the least likely to hold senior leadership positions. Women of color also are paid less compared to men of color and white men and more frequently report frustrations with inadequate salaries.
  3. The social landscape of organizations is fraught for 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 hyper-visible under intense scrutiny, with both conditions creating burdens.

The report also includes a section detailing key themes from survey write-in responses by women of color and from focus groups and interviews conducted with Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Latinx, Native American, and transgender women of color.

“In response to the Movement for Black Lives and the struggles for the rights of indigenous peoples and immigrants, nonprofit leaders have become more adept at talking about intersectionality, anti-Black racism, and de-colonization,” said Frances Kunreuther and Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, co-directors of the Building Movement Project, “but the Race to Lead data shows that nonprofit organizations need to dramatically change more than the words we use on our websites and in our grant reports. Real change means re-shaping the hierarchies and power structures in the nonprofit sector, the ways organizations behave, and how they treat their staff, particularly women of color.”

Some solutions BMP recommends include:

  • Leverage the power of philanthropy. Funders should examine their own grant-making practices to support more organizations led by women of color. Funders should also encourage their grantees to embark on a race and gender equity journey by asking about the racial composition of staff and boards of organizations in grant proposals and demonstrating to organizations that the diversity information informs their strategy and funding decisions. 
  • Advocate for enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. The nonprofit sector should advocate for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to receive more appropriations to investigate charges of discrimination—even if this means uncomfortably turning the lens on itself.
  • Address internal biases. Organizations should address both conscious and so-called “unconscious” biases that affect the mentoring, feedback, evaluations and overall treatment of women of color. These steps toward equity cannot be limited to anti-bias training, which is necessary but insufficient. Nonprofit organizations also need robust and equitable HR policies and systems that will set an expectation that racism, sexism, anti-trans bias, 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 discrimination. Organizations should ensure 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. Peer support does not take place by happenstance: it 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.

What people are saying:

  • Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector highlights the barriers to advancement that women of color face despite their education and training — and shows why we must act to address the systemic barriers that stand in their way and build a more equitable and inclusive nonprofit sector.” – Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO, The Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • “The Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector report bears witness to the diverse voices and experiences of women of color. This very informative report acknowledges how the systemic challenges, while the same on some level, are different given the stereotypes WOC confront. The clear and actionable recommendations included in the report show how with intention we can support, lift up and change the nonprofit work experiences and open opportunities for women of color.” – Teresa C. Younger, President & CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women
  • “This latest report from the Building Movement Project in the Race to Lead series deepens our understanding of the lived experiences of women of color working in the nonprofit sector. The combination of survey data and qualitative analysis paints a picture of a sector that has much more to do to recognize, support, and advance women of color who have both potential and aspiration for leadership. The call to action outlined in the report deserves the collective attention and commitment from those of us in leadership roles today.” – Jim Canales, President, Barr Foundation.
  • Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector opens the door towards understanding the multilayered ways women of color leaders are systemically marginalized within our organizations and movements, despite their significant contributions towards inspiring a more equitable and just society. The report aggregates thousands of responses which must be heard and supported in order to build the nation that we aspire to achieve. The report provides concrete recommendations towards advancing a vibrant and inclusive leadership community. Essentially, the report tells us that we are standing “in our own way” and not our opposition – we must confront the serious work of deconstructing institutionalized sexism and racism to embrace women of color leadership as critical towards advancing justice.”  Alvin Starks, Acting Director, Equality Fund, Open Society Foundations

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Contact: Noelia Mann,

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