Black Women in Leadership Is Still a Slippery Slope. Here’s Why.
In a new report, the Washington Area Women’s Foundation has “observed a disconcerting pattern where Black women leaders are vacating their roles” in the nonprofit sector. The data was collected after analyzing Black women’s experiences and innovative solutions to offset the “mounting barriers and challenges to their leadership.”
The Washington Area Women’s Foundation listened to 32 presidents, CEOs, and executive directors. Of the group, 90% of respondents said that they experienced “detrimental effects on their health and well-being,” such as chronic stress, fatigue, elevated blood pressure, and mental health concerns. Almost 70% of respondents “agreed or strongly agreed” that the state of Black women’s leadership has been vulnerable in recent years.
On behalf of the foundation, President and CEO Tamara Wilds Lawson wrote that Black women’s “words call us to take collective responsibility for ensuring Black women and Black gender-expansive leaders have the resources and support they deserve to thrive in this sector which relies so heavily on their valuable labor.”
Throughout the global pandemic and public health crisis, Black women have been elevated into senior leadership roles, especially in the healthcare and social services sector. Amid a racial reckoning, Black women leaders have even been hired with the “expectation of addressing organizational deficiencies that their predecessors were unable to overcome without added support or resources.”
Based on the data, the foundation determined an underlying issue for such a shaky infrastructure. Black women expressed the “fundamental absence of trust in their leadership” across fundraising, board engagement, staff management, and wellness policies. The women cited the lack of mentorship, community, support networks, and opportunities to express vulnerability without their leadership being undermined.
For example, the report noted that the “current D.C. public and nonprofit sector environment produces a scarcity mindset,” discouraging Black woman-led organizations from shying away from working in collaborative spaces.
After hearing from the Black women, the foundation outlined specific ideas to provide Black women and Black gender-expansive leaders with the support, resources, and infrastructure they need to thrive as they lead.