Stratification, communication tactics, and Black women: navigating the social domain of nonprofit organizations.

Author:Adesaogun, Risikat



Nonprofit organizations devoted to serving communities in need are led overwhelmingly by white non-hispanic individuals, despite generally having an overall diverse staff of professionals (Adetimirin, 2008; De Vita & Roeger, 2009; Ostrower, 2007). The race stratification that occurs in the nonprofit industry can be understood as the grouping of one racial group at the leadership and decision-making level within a nonprofit and the grouping of another at the front-line and entry-level positions within an organization. Despite nonprofit organizations being devoted to doing good work, financial backers are now much more interested in seeing racially and ethnically diverse individuals at the decision-making table (Cohen, 2011). Some scholars have suggested that securing minority representation in leadership roles produces generally positive results for nonprofit organizations (De Vita, 2009). However, despite knowing that obstacles exist for people of color in their pursuit of nonprofit leadership, there remains the question of what kinds of actions people of color have taken to maximize their career success and how they strategically communicate to achieve upward career mobility within the nonprofit field.

Stratification & Diversity in Nonprofits

Defining diversity is integral to understanding the racial and ethnic stratification of leadership in the nonprofit industry. Some researchers investigated the main question of whether minority employees were represented in top-tier decision making roles in nonprofit organizations (Adetimirin, 2008; Ostrower, 2007). When examining the concept of diversity in organizations, it is important to pay special attention to how one defines diversity.

In one study, a group of researchers tasked with determining whether a more diverse decision-making group increased overall transparency defined diversity simply as "[the] level of ethnic and gender heterogeneity within the community's leadership structure" (Armstrong, 2008, p. 809). A report in the Nonprofit Quarterly discussed diversity in more quantifiable terms, stating that to be diverse, an organization's board of directors needed to have at least 50% minority involvement, along with a clearly expressed mission statement with goals that would directly serve minority communities (Cohen, 2008). A report on the racial-ethnic diversity in California's nonprofits discussed three separate definitions of diversity, with one model reflecting the 50% minority board member rule, and a second model which required the target population to be predominantly minorities in addition to the requirements of the first model. The report's third definition of diversity focused on minority-led organizations that were comprised of a minority leader, majority-minority board and staff members, and a mission statement devoted to serving and empowering minority communities (De Vita & Roeger, 2009).

Nonprofit organizations have defined diversity in a variety of ways; however, even though organizations often tout their diverse staff, funders have an overall preference for what they call "real diversity, not token demographics" (Cohen, 2011, p.2). Despite the desires of funders to have an authentic representation of diversity in nonprofit organizations, some organizations appear uninterested in change. An article on a proposed law intended to reduce ethnic and racial discrimination at the foundation level put into more succinct words the attitude towards diversity in nonprofit organizations: "It is [a] policy conundrum [for proponents of AB 624]...whose diversity approaches reflect a framework of "valuing" diversity but do not alter the power relationships within institutional philanthropy" (Cohen, 2008, p.6).

A national study conducted by researchers from the Commongood Careers and Level Playing Institute (2011) examined diversity in nonprofit organizations with the goal of learning about what actions nonprofit organizations should take in order to build and sustain high functioning and diverse organizations. Their study concluded that of the organizations analyzed, the current composition of nonprofit employees was about 80 percent white, with the remaining 20 percent comprised of minority employees. The institute's researchers suggested that the racial composition of nonprofit organizations had already fallen behind in being representative of the demographic shift happening in the United States. Of the over 1,600 current and former nonprofit employees surveyed, many respondents stated that there was a lack of willingness from their nonprofit organizations to ensure that their diversity values were tangibly realized through actions like professional development, training and internally promoting qualified minority employees (Schwartz, Weinberg, Haganbuch & Scott, 2011).

Effects of Diversity in Nonprofit Leadership Roles

People of color are inadequately represented in decision-making roles within nonprofit organizations (Adetimirin, 2009; Brown, 2002; Cohen, 2011; DeVita, 2009; Ostrower, 2007). The available research suggests that the lack of diversity may decrease the ability of nonprofit organizations to respond appropriately and proactively to the needs of their target populations, many of which are largely comprised of racial and ethnic minorities (Ostrower, 2007). Adetimirin (2009) suggests that incorporating diverse individuals in leadership positions in nonprofit organizations may ultimately benefit both agencies and those they serve. LeRoux (2009) explained that having racially and ethnically diverse nonprofit boards influenced both policy priorities and service delivery of nonprofit organizations. She went on to argue that nonprofit organizations who have racially diverse boards tend to exhibit more enhanced organizational performance and are more sensitive to the political interests and concerns of their stakeholders (as cited in Brown, 2002 p. 17).

Understanding the overall ethnic composition of nonprofit organizations is integral to understanding the impact of racial and ethnic stratification at the leadership level within the industry. Researchers attempting to understand nonprofit organizations in California discovered that while minorities and women made up the majority of nonprofit employees in the state, only 25% of nonprofit organizations were minority-led. Researchers also discovered that in cases where nonprofits were minority-led, there was greater racial and ethnic heterogeneity in higher- level positions than in their white-led counterparts, and more general diversity among all levels of management (De Vita & Roeger, 2009). The 2007 nationwide study led by the Urban Institute also supported this general trend. Their researchers discovered that minority representation at the board level was oftentimes positively correlated with overall minority representation in nonprofit organizations, while low levels of minority representation at higher levels was negatively associated with diversity among nonprofit employees (Ostrower, 2007).

The demonstrated preference of majority white nonprofit officials to hire whites over hiring qualified individuals of color for decision-making roles has likely, though indirectly, led to the creation of a variety of different professional networking groups such as the African American Nonprofit Network. Such networks are possibly being created in response to low numbers of minority representation in the more impactful positions within nonprofit organizations. A study on nonprofit leadership in the United States revealed that newly hired executive directors were still equally as likely to be white as their minority counterparts that had served in the nonprofit field for many years (Adetimirin, 2008). Overall, the literature suggested that the hesitance of nonprofit organizations to support minority involvement at higher levels is likely to remain constant without intentional and strategic action.

Racial and Ethnic Stratification in Other Industries

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) data from the 2010 census was not yet available at the time of the review of academic literature. However, data from the 2000 census provided some interesting information about employment and diversity that may lead to some insights about the race stratification in nonprofit leadership positions. Numbers from the Minnesota EEO Data Packet reflected that workers in management-level positions were comprised of 61 percent male and 38 percent female workers. The reported gender balance reflected the state's workforce at large, with 52 percent male and 47 percent female workers across each industry. However, the data regarding diversity was particularly interesting, with 93 percent white management-level workers to only six percent non-white minority workers (Minnesota Dept. of Employment and Economic Development, 2000). In 2012, Minnesota again led the nation in the unemployment gap between whites and blacks (Gilbert, 2012). The large disparity between white management- level employees and non-white employees in the overall workforce suggests that race stratification at the leadership level is likely occurring in Minnesota's nonprofit industry.

However, it is important to note that the large gap between white management-level employees and minority employees at the same level may be due in part to the limited geographical distribution of people of color in Minnesota. In 2011, whites made up nearly 87 percent of all individuals in Minnesota, with the remainder being made up largely by Black or African Americans, Native Americans, Asian and Hispanic individuals (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). Understanding the geographic distribution of people of color is integral to understanding how they are represented in their chosen areas of employment. For example, the 2010 census revealed that people who self-identified as Black or African-American made up 13 percent of the total United States population...

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