It’s Time to Either Put Up or Shut Up About Diversity

By Rosetta Thurman

A new study released yesterday by the Racial Diversity Collaborative and the Urban Institute points out that 92 percent of national nonprofits headquartered in Washington, DC are led by white executive directors.

Shocking? Probably not.

Newsworthy? Absolutely.

A related Baltimore Sun story declares as a matter of fact: “Minority leadership lagging at nonprofits.” This fact is of course well-known within the nonprofit sector and has been for quite some time. Now, it’s just becoming even more well-documented with similar studies in New York and California published recently as well.

In a time when the face of America is rapidly changing, the face of nonprofit leadership on the whole is certainly not changing at the same pace. For a sector that is known for serving, and in many cases, “empowering” racially diverse communities, we have not made much progress when it comes to seeking out leaders that actually look like those in the communities we serve.

Even though we know that in this country, the minority is fast becoming the majority. As the New York Times has reported: “The census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites.” Despite this trend, 82 percent of all nonprofits are led by whites.

Yet with all of the lip service being paid to racial diversity in the last few years (some longtime nonprofit leaders might say decades), you would think we’d have gotten a lot further than we have. Which kind of makes you wonder, do nonprofits still care about having inclusive leadership?

While it’s encouraging to see how many nonprofit diversity studies have been commissioned in the last few years, it does beg a familiar set of questions.

When, if ever, will nonprofits quit paying lip service to racial diversity and actually do something about it? When will organizations make it a priority to ensure that their leadership reflects the racial diversity of the people they serve?

It’s 2010. By now, we know it’s a problem and we know it’s important for organizational effectiveness. By now, we’ve had more than enough time to think about it, study it, and hire consultants to tell us how to do it.

Now is the time for the nonprofit sector to either put up or shut up about diversity already. Because if these numbers don’t start getting any better, it’s fair to assume that we really just don’t care.

  • Rosetta Thurman photoRosetta Thurman

    Rosetta Thurman is the principal consultant of Thurman Consulting and teaches nonprofit management and leadership at Trinity Washington University.

    Contact Rosetta


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