Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: How the Third Sector Can Do Better
Diversity, equity and inclusion: a topic that is frequently brought up in blogs, in the news, in magazine articles and at conferences and networking events. But yet, as we near the end of 2020, it’s clear that we’ve made little progress.
In 2013, white people made up 79% of the U.S. nonprofit workforce, while 88% made up full-time executive staff. In 2017, white people made up 87% of the workforce at nonprofits and foundations. So how far have we come, and where are we in 2020?
According to “Race to Lead Revisited,” 58% of study respondents reported that less than 25% of their organization’s staff in top leadership roles are made up of people of color. But the issues with DEI in the nonprofit sector doesn’t end at racism, as women make up 75% of the nonprofit workforce — yet, why is it that women make up such a small fraction of CEOs? In fact, GuideStar reported that only 18% of women occupied CEO roles at nonprofits with annual budgets more than $50 million.
Further, research has shown that there are striking differences in funding opportunities between white-led organizations and Black-led organizations. In “Racial Equity and Philanthropy: Disparities in Funding for Leaders of Color Leave Impact on the Table,” researchers discovered that Black-led organizations had 24% less average revenues than white-led organizations. And, Black-led organizations also had 76% less unrestricted net assets than white-led organizations.
For this cover story, we are highlighting Anu Kumar, president and CEO of Ipas, an international nonprofit dedicated to meeting the reproductive health needs of women and girls by focusing on improving health services for them, increasing their access to services and expanding their sexual and reproductive rights. Kumar has been featured on Forbes and Think Global Health, and has previously written on the issues of racial and gender inequalities that exist in our sector. She shares her story and wisdom in an exclusive interview with NonProfit PRO.
Please share your journey and how you found yourself at Ipas.
I was born in Jaipur, Rajasthan, immigrated with my family to Canada, and then came to the U.S. Though I had started school in India, I didn’t speak English well when I started school in Canada. My parents are academics, and for employment reasons, we moved to a different city every year of my life until I was about 11 when they decided to stay put in Utah. I am fortunate to come from a close extended family, which includes many “aunties” and “uncles” who are family friends. This extended family created a bubble of belonging in a state that was otherwise unfriendly toward non-Christians/Mormons and non-whites.
It was an interesting state to live in, and I have many examples of people not understanding where I was from. For example, when I said I was Indian, meaning from the country of India, people thought I was native American. At the same time, I had teachers, friends and, of course, family who have encouraged me to take advantage of all that the U.S. offers.
I come from a long line of educators and scholars, and my mother was a Hindi and Sanskrit teacher, so she insisted that I continue to speak Hindi. I eventually studied Hindi at UC Berkeley where I did my undergraduate education. There, I was one of very few Indian-American students who was not majoring in a hard science or engineering. And even though my major was anthropology, I was a pre-med student — but I was conflicted about what I wanted to pursue as a career. In my last semester, I took a medical anthropology class that introduced me to a discipline that I didn’t know existed. I ended up taking the GRE and the MCAT, and applied to graduate programs in anthropology, public health, biology and medical school. I figured an admissions committee could help me decide what I should pursue! Fortunately, by the time admissions decisions were made, I had decided that I wanted to study medical anthropology and was offered a scholarship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
While I have a PhD, I never wanted to be an academic — maybe it was too close to what my parents did. I’m very pragmatic and committed to alleviating suffering today, though I appreciate the need to theorize and conceptually ground practical work. A Master’s in public health helped to give me concrete skills and open doors into the field of public health. I also studied demography and was associated with the Carolina Population Center. The melding of anthropology, public health and demography has been both fascinating and incredibly useful to me in my career.
I had two field experiences that made a big difference in my worldview. The first was in Kerala, India, near Kanyakumari, which is nearly at the tip of the country. I lived with a family who ran a community health clinic in the hills, and I saw all sorts of health problems — from undernourishment, to diabetes, to a demand for contraception. Kerala has good health and gender equality indicators, but reproductive health care was still lacking. Then, while doing fieldwork for my dissertation in a dry, dusty village in Rajasthan, I met women who had so little autonomy over their lives and, more striking to me, couldn’t imagine a different way of living. I was born in Rajasthan — these women were just like me. And yet, our lives, our opportunities and our life outcomes couldn’t be more different.
I finished my graduate education and then worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva, which introduced me to the global health field, not to mention the deep politicization of health. I then worked in philanthropy at the MacArthur Foundation shortly after the International Conference on Population and Development, which was a pivotal event in the reproductive health and rights field. It was there that I came to learn about Ipas and eventually moved to Ipas as EVP in 2002, and then as president and CEO in 2018.
I have been part of so many changes at Ipas and work with amazing people around the world who are all committed to our mission. Our work isn’t easy, and we face a lot of challenges, but we have made a difference in the lives of millions of women and their families. I’m grateful and proud.
Gender inequality and diversity are two big problems in the nonprofit sector. Can you share your thoughts on why it is so difficult for women and people of color to land an executive role?
There are many reasons for this. First, there are systems of oppression — racism, sexism, class — that prevent equitable access to education, employment and advancement. In the U.S., these systems are so embedded in our culture that we have a hard time seeing them as created and not natural.
For years, the default mode for an executive was a white male, even in the nonprofit sector. During my first week at the MacArthur Foundation, I attended a senior management meeting as a substitute for my boss who was away. It was jarring to walk into a room full of white men with no woman of color in a position of authority sitting at the table. I realized that my boss, a woman from Brazil, was not the norm.
Patriarchy and racism are not abstract; they show up in very real and tangible ways in our lives. For instance, often people of color are not in the same networks as the CEOs, executive directors or boards of directors who are doing the hiring. So they may not hear about a job nor be asked to apply for one. In addition, recruitment for top jobs is often done with little transparency and oversight, so it’s hard to know how to influence the process.
People of color, especially women, may also not be known to search firms, and internal candidates at the middle management level are often not considered for higher positions. So working your way to the top is also not a sure path.
I think it is also important that we are careful about our language — the terms “diversity” and “people of color” mask important nuances. For instance, there are many white women in the nonprofit sector, including at the executive level, but there are very few Black people at that level. We still have work to do. At the end of the day, the nonprofit sector mirrors society at large. And our society is rife with inequality.
What’s your advice for women of color who are trying to advance their careers in the nonprofit sector?
- Seek opportunities to learn about all aspects of nonprofit work — from fundraising, to finance, to program implementation — even if you are not trained in those other areas. Volunteer for projects in which your skills and commitment can shine.
- Consider moving from one organization to another in pursuit of a higher position. Not only will you get a promotion, hopefully, but you will learn different organizational cultures and processes, and can bring that learning wherever you go.
- Apply for positions that may be a stretch. Women of color are often overlooked, so I think we must draw attention to our talents. Even if you don’t get the position, it may open up a conversation about what skills you need to develop in order to be ready to take on that job in the future.
- Maintain your network and expand it whenever possible. Get on the radar of search firms, so they can keep you in mind when they’re filling positions.
- Perhaps most important: Be completely dedicated to the mission of your organization. The truth is that many of us will be overlooked, underpaid and frustrated in our ambitions. One major motivation, certainly for me, is to remember why you’re doing this work and to genuinely feel a connection to the mission of your nonprofit.
Please explain why diversity is such an important topic to discuss. And how can nonprofits encourage more diversity into their organizational cultures?
You asked me two questions on diversity — why it is important and how nonprofits can encourage more diversity into their organizational cultures. So much has happened [in recent months] that I think it is impossible to have clear-cut answers. The question of diversity goes beyond organizational cultures and is part of larger issues related to power and its unequal distribution in society.
Ipas issued a statement following the killing of George Floyd that as a human rights organization, we stand with Black communities around the country in frustration, in anger, in pain and in protest. Dismantling systems of oppression, like racism and patriarchy, is at the core of Ipas’ mission. Our vision is of a world where everyone has the right to determine their own future. Without autonomy, safety and dignity, people are not free to exercise this right. Racial justice and reproductive justice are intertwined. And just having the right to health, to bodily autonomy or to abortion isn’t enough. Marginalized communities face economic, cultural, religious and systemic barriers that often keep them from accessing their rights.
I recently wrote honestly about racism and white supremacy in Think Global Health. I talked about how, in many cases, we — particularly in the global health NGO sector — focus on diversity, equity and inclusion; mentorship; and funding strategies, which are all important. But what we don’t talk about is how the structures and operations of our organizations are part of white supremacist culture. We absolutely have to radically reimagine the system so that we can realize a better world for everyone.
Editor's Note: This cover story was originally published in the July/August print edition of NonProfit PRO. To see the original article, click here.
Nhu Te is senior content manager at Fundraise Up, the AI-powered online donation platform for enterprise nonprofits. In her work, she focuses on helping nonprofits create more impact through personalized donor relations, digital fundraising and thoughtful use of technology.