September 17, 2009

A Man's World

Big charities overwhelmingly run by white males, a Chronicle survey finds

America's biggest charities are much more likely than its biggest businesses to be led by a woman — but only slightly more likely to be led by an African-American, according to a new survey by The Chronicle of nonprofit leadership.

And the leadership at neither the top charities nor businesses is as diverse as the American population.

The top jobs in the nonprofit world still go overwhelmingly to white men, the newspaper's figures show.

Comparisons to Fortune 500

The Chronicle collected data on the gender and race of current chief executives of the 400 U.S. organizations that raised the most from private sources in 2007 — its most recent Philanthropy 400 rankings — and compared that to similar data supplied by Fortune magazine about the leaders of this year's Fortune 500 companies.

The results:

  • Seventy-five (or 18.8 percent) of the leadership slots at the 400 charities are held by women. By contrast, 15 (or 3 percent) of Fortune 500 leaders are female, and 50.7 percent of the American population is composed of women, according to the Census Bureau.
  • Twenty-five (or 6.3 percent) of the 400 nonprofit leaders are nonwhite. Most of the minority CEO's (14, or nearly 3.5 percent of the full 400) are black. Fortune — which keeps data only on black chief executives in its company rankings, not on all minority leaders — reported only five black leaders of Fortune 500 companies this year, or 1 percent of the total.

Census estimates say that 34.4 percent of the U.S. population is nonwhite, and 12.8 percent of the overall population is black.

Numbers like these add up to good news and bad news for charities, say recruiters and nonprofit leaders.

"For a number of years we've been hearing that the for-profit community has been investing lots and lots of money into recruiting diverse individuals into leadership positions. So I think it's a little heartening that we have as much or more diversity in our ranks than the for-profit community, because we obviously haven't spent a lot of time and effort compared to for-profit companies," says Stephen Bauer, executive director of the Nonprofit Workforce Coalition, a group of more than 70 nonprofit organizations housed at American Humanics, in Kansas City, Mo., which prepares college students for charity careers.

On the other hand, The Chroncle's findings about nonprofit leadership are "troubling" when compared with the proportion of women and minorities in the American population, says Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, in Washington, a coalition of about 600 charity, foundation, and corporate-giving leaders. (Last month, her organization asked 75 nonprofit leaders to devise plans to shape the field's future, with diversity emerging as a major issue. The group will begin a series of online discussions about its ideas this month.)

The face of nonprofit leadership affects the work a group does, Ms. Aviv says.

"Many of the programs that our foundations and our nonprofits are involved in relate to improving life for everybody, including people who are disadvantaged, including populations of color," she says. "It's better for us to have our leadership of our nonprofit community reflecting the diversity of [our] work force, and reflecting the diversity of the areas in which they work, and that they serve, and that they fund."

Women's Work

While the great majority of the leaders of the biggest charities are men, Tim Wolfred, senior project director at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, in San Francisco, says women make up about two-thirds of the nonprofit work force, according to his organization's studies, and often run charities that are smaller than the 400 largest.

Other recent studies underscore the predominance of women in the nonprofit world:

  • In May, a study of its members by the Association of Fundraising Professionals found that about three of four fund raisers are female. (The same study also found few minority fund raisers, with 92 percent of respondents identifying themselves as white, and fewer than 3 percent saying they were black.)
  • Also in May, a Council on Foundations survey found 55 percent of all chief-executive or chief grant-making jobs are held by women. Minority employees, the study found, hold 6.8 percent of those full-time, paid leadership positions.

Despite the preponderance of women in nonprofit jobs, they are entirely absent from chief executive roles at certain kinds of big charities. No arts-and-culture organization, hospital, public-affairs group, Jewish federation, or other religious organization in The Chronicle's survey of the 400 biggest charities is currently headed by a woman. Among environmental and animal-welfare groups, only one has a female leader, and the same is true of museums and libraries.

'Appalled' by Lack of Minorities

The shares of female nonprofit leaders should be much higher when considering how many women fill rank-and-file jobs at charities, says Joyce M. Roché, chief executive of Girls Inc., a national youth charity in New York.

When she worked in the for-profit world (before taking her current job in 2000), she says, the "pipeline" of up-and-coming leaders was often blamed for not producing a diverse enough pool of senior management candidates. But, she says, "I look at these numbers and I think, 'Well, it's not a pipeline thing, because women have been in this sector for a long time. So what is the thing that is causing there not to be a lot of representation?'"

Ms. Roché also says she is "appalled" by the single-digit percentage of nonprofit CEO's who, like herself, are minority-group members.

She especially questions why social-service and other groups that she says are "disproportionately serving people of color" are so often led by white males. At Girls Inc., she notes, about 70 percent of the children served are from minority groups. "They need to see women who look like them in leadership roles," she says. "It's just one more lens to show the possibilities."

Jeff Clarke, president of Northern California Public Broadcasting, in San Francisco, says he has seen an increasing number of women and minorities climbing up the middle and upper reaches of the career ladder at his organization and throughout public radio and television, especially in the last 10 years. (Among the public-broadcasting organizations in The Chronicle's survey, three of the seven executive slots are occupied by women, but none by members of minority groups.) Making sure a diverse collection of young people enters the pipeline, and giving middle managers chances to grow with quality training and enhanced responsibilities, can help ensure that that momentum continues throughout the nonprofit world, he says.

Organizations also need to be on the lookout for promising, diverse talent within as well as outside their ranks, he says, which means taking an active approach. "You can't get women and minorities into leadership positions if you're not out there seeking them," says Mr. Clarke, who has announced his retirement next year.

Economy's Role

But whether a more diverse group of young managers will be able to step anytime soon into the leadership roles now largely held by white men like Mr. Clarke depends partly on the economy.

"CEO's in this current economic climate are staying in their positions longer than they imagined," says Mr. Wolfred. "A common refrain we're hearing is 'My retirement funds have shrunk and I have to stay in my job longer to rebuild them.'" Even some leaders whose personal finances are secure are staying longer out of a sense of duty as their charities' fund raising slips, he says. He sums up these leaders' attitude as "I've got to see my organization through this."

Money may also play a factor in keeping more minority professionals from seeking charity posts, he says, since many can earn bigger salaries in the business world.

"When discrimination was more prevalent, people of color had more opportunities in the nonprofit sector," says Mr. Wolfred. "And now they've got the same opportunities in the corporate sector. So the leadership doesn't always stay in the [nonprofit] sector; it moves on to other places."

Seeking 'Human Fit'

The evolution of professional networks — hastened by the exploding popularity of online social networks like LinkedIn — will especially have an impact on who is filling chief-executive roles in the coming years, says Wayne Luke, a partner at Bridge­span, a nonprofit consulting firm in Boston, and its head of executive search. The overwhelming majority of senior-level jobs are filled by candidates who are personally known to an organization's search-committee members.

"Ultimately, it comes down to one individual's ability to advocate another individual," Mr. Luke says.

With that emphasis on personal networks, Mr. Wolfred points to charity boards that lack significant minority representation as one factor in the current state of affairs with regard to leadership. "The boards are generally not as diverse as the communities their organizations are serving," he says. "And people, in my experience, tend to hire people who look like them."

Boards, says Ms. Roché, hold the key to the executive's office, and too often fail to demand an inclusive slate of candidates. "Diversity isn't something that just happens," she says. "It has to be something that is of importance to boards. And I would say boards probably play an even greater role in this sector in terms of leadership selection than they even do in corporate."

Ms. Aviv, who says she is frequently asked to nominate candidates to fill senior roles at nonprofit organizations, says organizations should make sure that "the pool of people who are drawn on to suggest names is diverse in and of itself."

To truly find the best leaders in a more diverse pool of job candidates, organizations need to focus more on finding "the right human fit" as opposed to a complete and rigid checklist of skills, says Mr. Luke. "If you find the right human fit," he says, "the organization will rally around the person in a way to help make them successful."

The recession shouldn't have any impact on this calculation between hard skills and "human fit," says Mr. Luke: "Sophisticated people looking to bring in senior-level executives know it always involves some kind of trade-off."

And senior-level jobs are still hard to fill, he says, despite the overall soft job market. "There are a lot of baseball players in the United States," he says, "but they can't all play in the major leagues."

The Chronicle's survey was compiled by Heather Joslyn, Sue LaLumia, Eugene McCormack, Jennifer Moore, Caroline Preston, and Ian Wilhelm.