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How Black Women are Changing the Face of Philanthropy for the Better

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

Black women in philanthropy

Black women are shifting the face of philanthropy as we know it.

But not within the walls of the nonprofits we've grown to love over the years. Instead, they're becoming social entrepreneurs and establishing groundbreaking organizations that genuinely address the issues of everyday Americans.

The truth is, being a Black woman in the workplace is can very exhausting, as racial and gender bias are common and all too often, affirmed through organizational practices and cultures. Unfortunately, the nonprofit sector is not immune to these issues.

During a time when America is becoming more diverse by the day, isn't it astonishing that about 84% of nonprofit board members, along with 90% of nonprofit board chairs are White? Nonprofits boards and directors supervise more than 1.6 million organizations nationally, overseeing finances, human resources, and the overall strategic vision.

Black women are shifting the face of philanthropy as we know it. But not within the walls of the nonprofits we've grown to love over the years.

The 'Problem Woman' of Color

According to BoardSource, “Despite reporting high levels of dissatisfaction with current board demographics — particularly racial and ethnic diversity — boards are not prioritizing demographics in their recruitment practices.”

A 2012 survey by the Council on Foundations found that people of color comprised less than one in five executives and fewer in one in ten CEOs of foundations. In another study in 2014, 74% of millennial women working in nonprofits indicated that they aspired to be a leader but currently weren’t.

Let's be clear; the issue is not with White or male leaders who serve communities of color, as all people are needed to do the work of social change. Still, one cannot ignore the nagging questions that writers and nonprofit leaders Jerelyn Rodriguez and Rosetta Thurman’s posed in their articles, Do You Want to Accelerate Social Innovation? Invest in Black Women. And, Philanthropy Doesn’t Care About Black People.

  1. Why is it that the people who have relevant experiences of struggle and challenge within communities of color are not usually the ones who emerge as nonprofit leaders to address these issues?

  2. If we are being denied the right to serve those that look like us, who does have the right?

  3. Who will be tasked to educate the 84 percent of White nonprofit board members to ensure they understand racial diversity as a critical issue for them to address?

The sad reality is Black women are regularly overlooked and discriminated against based on race and differing cultural beliefs, causing them to leave organizations as a result. One study found that 30% of respondents indicated that they left a job due to an unwelcoming racial environment. While their white colleagues attributed their leaving to non-discriminating factors, such as family conflict or "they go a better job". I’ve even have had a Senior Human Resources Director look me square in the eye and say, “We are not looking to change, the organization understands that we may lose valuable people and we’re okay with that.” (True story).

the "problem" woman of color workplace modal

Creating a Lane for Ourselves

However, Black women are not letting their skills, education, innovative ideas, and social awareness go to waste. Instead, they are creating opportunities to empower other women who look like them. Between 2007 and 2018, the number of businesses owned by Black women grew by 164%. There are approximately 2.4 million African American women-owned businesses in 2018, with the majority owned by women ages 35 to 54.

"Black women who become entrepreneurs do so to turn their passions into profitable businesses" (Ahmad, 2014).

While men are more likely to measure success regarding financial metrics, women holistically define business achievement. In result, women aren't just pursuing entrepreneurship, but social entrepreneurship; which is using business to solve social problems.

The phrase may be unfamiliar to some, but social entrepreneurship and service have been the hallmark for African American women in business, from Madame CJ Walker to Annie Malone, and Sarah Spencer Washington. Today, Black women are driving many popular social movements; including Alicia Garza, one of the creators of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Tarana Burke the founder of the #MeToo movement, and Because Of Them We Can's Founder Eunique Jones.

Speaking for the Country

It's estimated that by 2050, women of color will be the majority of all women in the United States. Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams, said it best. The Black woman's agenda is America's agenda. “It’s about educating our children from cradle to career--it's about making sure that access to healthcare is not an argument, it is a right.” Sadly, the data is clear; ideas from entrepreneurs of color that could potentially impact the neediest communities are not valued.

The nonprofit sector needs to recognize that people of color are often still seen as receivers of charity instead of as empowered and valued citizens within the process. In maintaining the image of a majority White leadership, philanthropic organizations cause more harm by reinforcing this notion. The future is in the numbers; if organizations do not make it a priority to reform their culture and restructure their leadership to include more faces of color, they will continue to lose talent who may one day become their competition.

Could your organization's culture use a revamp?

What changes would improve interactions, morale, and inclusivity within your workplace?

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