Don't Tell Me Anything About Diversity When All Of Your Leadership Looks the Same


Cherise Charleswell | Women's Issues | Analysis | March 29th, 2018



As one of the founding Chairs of the Hampton Institute, a working-class think tank , I can say that one of the things that excited me about launching this project - a project that has grown into a respected resource and is accessed from those in Academia, filmmakers, and a wide variety of media sources - is that we were truly a diverse group, in every sense of the word, from day one.

Although a majority of us are based in the United States, we are a collective that includes men, women, various races/ethnicities, and religious views. We even have diversity in terms of age. Younger people have never been told that they could not voice their concerns or share their insights. Our collective includes immigrants/first generation immigrants, those who identify as LGBTQ, and all recognizing that we are equal members of the working class, and thus should all have a "seat at the table."

Now, contrast all of this to what is often seen in other organizations, particularly those in the public and non-profit sectors that flaunt their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and progressive missions. Those organizations are essentially only diverse in name, or only at the entry-perhaps-mid-level of staff, but rarely when it comes to those in position of leadership. And this is unfortunately also true for women's or feminist organizations. And, yes, this means that more often than not those who lead these organizations are White, middle-class, cis, heterosexual women. Basically the face of white feminism, and everything that makes it so problematic.

I was reminded of this when I heard the initial excitement about comments made by Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, during her participation in the Women's March #PowerToThePolls rally in Las Vegas. During the event she called on white women to do more to "save this country from itself." She went on to state that it is not up to women of color to "save the country from itself" (BTW: You're welcome!) And her comments come on the heels of much of the accolades, thank-yous, etc. being thrown at Black women for attempting to save the United States from Trump, while 53% of white women voted for him; and for saving Alabama (and again the US) from pedophile and racist, Roy Moore, while 63% of white women voted for him. More about all that saving here , here , and here .

Cecile Richards actually announced her plans to resign from her role as President of Parenthood on January 26th, and after thinking about her statements for "white women to do better, because clearly they have been failing," and all of these statements of gratitude being directed at Black women and other women of color for their efforts, I can't help but ask whether we will actually see a Black woman or other women of color step into this soon-to-be-vacant position?

One has to ask this, when considering once again what leadership in public and non-profit organizations currently look like, even those that claim to have missions and areas of focus that directly impact communities of color. For instance, consider the leadership of other well-established women's organizations. The Feminist Majority Foundation (Eleanor Smeal), National Organization of Women (Terry O' Neil), and other organizations such as the Women's Foundation of California (Judy Patrick), are all lead by white women. My knowledge of these realities helped to ensure that I was not surprised by finding out that the Los Angele's County's Women & Girls Initiative's Executive Director is a white woman. I expected it. I recently attended their kick-off discussion meetings with community thought leaders, whose feedback is supposed to help drive the initiative, and as they shared statistics that I was familiar with, such as the fact that since 2015 there has been a 51% increase of homeless women in Los Angeles County and one-quarter of Latinas and African American women in the county live below the poverty line, my mind couldn't help drift to the fact that I was again in a position where I was witnessing another gatekeeper share narratives about people who look like me, and communities that I come from, instead of having a representative from those very communities be the person sharing this information and driving the initiative.

If the goal was truly to make a change (and as great as it is having members of the community provide their input), the person delivering the message and pushing the initiative should have an intimate understanding, including personal lived experiences, of the issues that have caused the disparities that were being discussed.

And no, having a diverse staff is not enough, and the reason why is Power Dynamics, but I will get more into that later.

Again, feminist organizations are not the only ones who have this problem. Diversity is a buzzword to many, but it is truly a falsehood when you begin to look at leadership. For example, simply attend a conference or professional networking event and you will find the same dynamic. The vast majority of people being introduced to you as Directors, Department heads, Senior Researchers, tenured professors, etc. are not women or people of color, or other marginalized groups. These people are often excited to share information about a diversity program, community outreach, or participatory research project that they are leading, and they want to share their best practices of reaching out to a specific community, you know "those people," and all of this can be really astonishing. Including the fact that they themselves do not see the irony or the problem. Literally blinded by privilege.

They view themselves as allies, as social justice warriors, as good Samaritans committed to change, but they are unwilling to take a look around, and look at who is in the room, and how much space they are able to take up, and how much authority and prestige (decision-making power) they possess. They do not take enough time to reflect on the fact that the chosen leaders who work primarily within marginalized communities and groups do not look like them. In short, not much has really changed, and there are statistics to prove that.


Consider this:

• A 2014 study found that women of color only occupied 3% of all board seats among Fortune 500 companies.

• Women are overrepresented in the public and nonprofit sectors, and this overrepresentation is linked to (1) greater offerings of family-friendly practices, (2) the higher wage advantage obtained by women compared with men working in the public sector rather that in the for-profit sector, (3) greater access to part time jobs and shorter workweeks (which again ties into women's traditional care-giver role or burden of non-paid work). (Lanfranchi & Narcy, 2013). Thus, 69% of nonprofit executive leadership are women ((Bell, Moyers, and Wolfred, 2006).

• Women are CEOs of only 21% of large non-profits, and they only make 66% of what their white counterparts make (Dubose, 2014).

• While women in academia (including public institutions) win roughly 56% of academia's most prestigious awards, only 29% of women have tenure. (Foxworth, 2016)

• 94 percent of foundation presidents are white (Thurman, 2007)

• Only 7% of non-profit chief executives are people of color (Dubose, 2014)

• Only 8% of non-profit Board Members are people of color (Dubose, 2014)

• 18% of non-profit employees are people of color (Dubose, 2014).


But What about Affirmative Action?

The group that has been the biggest beneficiary of Affirmative Action has been white women, and this has been no secret. More about how White women have been benefitted disproportionately can be read here .

How this disproportional benefit happened is easy to follow. White women are simply in closest proximity to white men, who have always held positions of prestige and leadership. They have been their fathers, uncles, cousins, and husbands - and their resources (especially financial) and connections (the "good old boys network") has benefitted them. All of this has bolstered their educational and professional pursuits. In fact, allowing white women to actively enter the workplace, assume positions of leadership, and earn higher wages, helps contribute to the fact that the median wealth of white households continues to be 20 times that of black households.

What is ironic about this is that the category "women" wasn't originally included in the first affirmative-action measure, which was an executive order signed by President Kennedy in 1961. It required federal contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." In 1967, President Johnson amended this, and a subsequent measure included sex, recognizing that women also faced many discriminatory barriers and hurdles to equal opportunity. Thus, this minor modification helped to ensure that Affirmative Action will continue a racial hierarchy - where white women remain at the pinnacle.

Yet, blinded to this reality (and privilege), many white women may not recognize just how much more they have benefited from Affirmative Action, which would explain the results of a 2014 study , where 70% of White women (ironically) "somewhat" or "strongly" opposed Affirmative Action.

According to a 2016 report from the American Enterprise Institute, "In surveys that ask about affirmative action for different groups, support is consistently higher for affirmative action programs for women than for affirmative action programs for minorities." The willingness to pay for only women, and not minorities, completely erases women of color; and makes it clear that these programs will not include intersectional frameworks that will address the multitude of issues that impact the lives of women of color.

This is why it is truly time to be intentional when it comes to Affirmative Action, and this is particularly true for women's groups, giving circles, feminist organizations, etc. Be intentional. Instead of creating agendas about women's empowerment, focus those agendas on the group of women who remain marginalized, create funding and garner resources that will help to empower women of color who have been left behind, and yes-let them Lead!


What is So Problematic about All-White-Women Leadership?

The following excerpt from the article, Don't Just Thank Black Women. Follow Us , does a great job of explaining why this current structure of white-women leadership is problematic and ineffective. It simply helps to show why real diversity is so critical:

"When I joined the 470,000 other women who walked down Constitution Avenue toward the National Mall on Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump's inauguration, I carried a sign saying, "Don't Forget, White Women Voted for Trump."

My messages stood in stark contrast to the theme of togetherness that dominated the Women's March - the pink "pussy hats" and "girl power" placards, the chants about how women would lead the resistance. This was exactly the point. I made the sign to communicate that in a world where 53 percent of white women voters chose a racist, elitist sexual predator for president, the idea that we all want the same things is a myth .

The point wasn't to antagonize the Women's March participants, who were mostly white. Rather, I wanted to highlight that on a national level, white women are not unified in opposition to Trumpism and can't be counted on to fight it ."(Peoples, 2017).

When one considers "closed-door decision-making," there is no greater example of this than the voting booth. When one casts their votes, it is a reflection of their values, of the issues that they think are important, and it is an exercise in judgment. The fact that so many white women could vote in-line with Trumpism, choosing to ignore or were unable to recognize his racism, xenophobia, sexism, and so on, is evidence enough that they are not exactly the best at having good judgment, and at worse, it means that they, too, hold Trump's views.

Connecting those dots should help you understand why having white-women-led organizations, particularly those that should focus on intersectional issues (the one's they deny or ignore) that primarily impact communities of color and other marginalized communities, is not only flawed, but dangerous.

Again, not much has changed.


Working Toward Diversity

Your organization, collective, collaborative, agency, or group should not even dare to call itself diverse if it is not ready to ensure that those in leadership, strategic planning, and decision-making are a diverse group, in terms of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, sex/gender, and so on. In other words - prove it!

Here are some ways that you can work toward diversity:

· Track and be mindful of the changes in racial demographics in the country, state, city, and assess your organization to see if it has kept pace with these changes. Determine whether the leadership of your organization reflects these varying demographics.

· Create opportunities for entry and mid-level staff to provide input that reflect perspectives from their various communities, and reward them for this sharing of expertise, particularly during considerations employee reviews, and salary negotiations/ re-negotiations. They should be considered subject matter experts.

· Ensure that you take the time to educate funders - whether they are foundations or politicians, who have to approve legislation for discretionary spending. This education should include discussions on systematic racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and how they impact the communities that they serve, particularly in terms of intersectionality. Take the time to go over the social determinants of health and how they have negatively impacted the wellbeing and many marginalized groups; and use these examples to justify the need for more intentional and directed funding mechanisms, and opportunities that are specific to these groups. Do not speak about programs for women's empowerment; instead begin conversations about the fact that Hispanic/Latina are paid only 59 cents on the white male dollar. So, this is why it is imperative to focus on programs for economic empowerment and development for Hispanic/Latina women.

· If your organization doesn't have an internal Affirmative Action program, implement one.

· Make cultural humility training a requirement for staff and Board members, and realize that the basis of cultural humility, which differs from cultural competency, means that there is no "end point" when it comes to learning, and that one will never be an "expert" about any group of people. Cultural humility is a process that involves ongoing self reflection, where one has to actively address Isms, work to end power balances, and be willing to take a step back to allow those from the impacted communities to serve as the "experts" on how best to move forward.

· Form Advisory Boards made up of members from the community, and do not make academic achievement the main criteria for joining the boards. Other factors should be considered.

· Be intentional when recruiting candidates. Make an effort to reach out to minority candidates, whether through head-hunters, job fairs, and working with workforce development organizations. Select executive search firms that have a proven track record of delivering a diverse pool of candidates. Dismantle the recruitment model that involves only referring from the personal circle of leadership, because everyone in those circles "look alike."

· Make diversity a central part of your organization's succession planning and managing executive transitions.

· Ensure that your human resources department and other members of leadership maintain an open door policy for complaints related to bias and workplace racism, as well as micro-aggressions.

· Look at your marketing materials and ensure that your staff and LEADERSHIP reflect the people in those images. Do not put out false images of diversity without working to maintain a diverse organization.

· When looking at candidates, consider privilege. Candidates from minority communities and marginalized groups may not have had the access (financially or through the established good boy network) to have attended an Ivy league university, or taken on many non-paid internships (because they had to work and earn an income, while pursuing their education), and realize that they may have far more to offer in terms of skills, perspective, or work ethic than someone who simply has credential degrees and no actual experience. Selecting these inexperienced, privileged, un-connected candidates only helps to continue the problem of having non-diverse leadership.

· Invest in diverse candidates upstream, by championing, funding, and/or creating programs for children, youth, and others from underrepresented groups, to ensure that they have the necessary skillets to compete. The United States Office of Minority Health actually hosts webinars for funding agencies, to teach them how to build health equity and diversity into their funding models.


For the Public:

· Demand that nonprofit agencies that you support be transparent when it comes to their leadership. Ask them about their commitment to diversity before you choose to support them.

· Be bold when visiting a public agency (that is supported by your tax dollars) and speak candidly about the issues that you see to all levels of staff. Ask to speak with a member of the leadership team, about the lack of diversity that you see. Be willing to make people uncomfortable.

· Consider volunteering your time and serving on a Foundation Board or Nonprofit Board. Many have a need for Board Members, but do a poor job of outreach to various communities and groups. As a member of these Boards you will help decide the direction of programming, messaging, which communities and topics to engage in, and you can help to facilitate the hiring of more diverse members of leadership and staff. Your vote can greatly help shift the dynamics of underrepresentation.

The for-profit, non-profit, and public sectors all equally have a diversity problem, particularly when it comes to leadership; but this issue is even more problematic in the public/non-profit sector, due to their missions, which are often one of service and addressing social inequities and health disparities. They will continue to fail in carrying out their missions, due to their failure in promoting leaders who are of diverse backgrounds, and have an intimate understanding of the various communities that are often negatively impacted and marginalized. Having board members, executive leadership, and staff from a wide array of backgrounds are truly a benefit to the organization, in that they bring unique perspectives that may be overlooked by "all white traditional leadership", and these differences in perspectives will help foster more meaningful relationships, and more importantly more effective solutions.

This includes feminist/women's organizations who claim to have a progressive agenda. There is nothing progressive about upholding the status quo of white supremacy. Organizations that claim to be committed to social justice need to have leaders that look like the members of those movements, and the communities served.

Ultimately, if you are committed to social transformation, restorative justice, resisting Trumpism, and truly serving the public in a manner that addresses social inequities, then you cannot continue to simply surround yourself with white people. Truly think about the hypocrisy of your actions.


Works Cited

Angela Peoples. Don't just thank Black women. Follow Us. New York Times. December 16, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/opinion/sunday/black-women-leadership.html

Bell, J., Moyers, R., and Wolfred, T. Daring to Lead 2006: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership. 2006. Retrieved Sept. 15, 2008, from http://www.compasspoint.org/assets/194_daringtolead06final.pdf .

Derwin Dubose. The nonprofit sector has a Ferguson problem. Nonprofit Quarterly. December 5, 2014. http://nonprofitquarterly.org/2014/12/05/the-nonprofit-sector-has-a-ferguson-problem/

Joseph Lanfranchi and Mathieu Narcy. Female Overrepresentation in Public and Nonprofit Sector Jobs: Evidence From a French National Survey. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 2013; 44(1):47-74. https://doi.org/10.1177/0899764013502579

Raymond Foxworth. Native American Women, Leadership and the Native Nonprofit Sector. First Nations Development Institute. 2016. https://firstnations.org/sites/default/files/%2A/Native_American_Women_in_Nonprofit_Leadership_FINAL2.pdf

Rosetta Thurman. Philanthropy Doesn't Care About Black People.

Standford Social Innovation Review

. October 2007.

https://ssir.org/articles/entry/philanthropy_doesnt_care_about_black_people