Women of Color and the Nonprofit Sector


The reason many women are working at nonprofit organizations is because it is a unique experience. According to Nonprofit quarterly, women make up 73% of the American nonprofit workforce. In order to better understand nonprofit organizations staffed with an all women of color team; I interviewed Habon Abdulle who is the Executive Director of Ayada Leads to get her thoughts on her nonprofit career and her experiences in the female dominated office space.


When asked in an interview "What motivated or inspired you to join the nonprofit sector field?" Habon answered I believe that a nonprofit organization rather than a for-profit business can provide you with deep, personal satisfaction in knowing that you are making a positive contribution to society.

After relocating to Minneapolis, Habon noticed that many Somali women had accomplished success in various fields, except for civic leadership. And as someone who had always been passionate about politics and women's leadership, it was her goal to gain a deeper understanding of the reasons for this leadership absence. By observing and talking with women, she found that many women were interested in politics but lacked support and mentoring. Afterwards; she had discovered that founding a nonprofit organization was the most effective way to inspire women to pursue their ambitions and to coach the community in recognizing women as capable leaders.


"Would you say there is a diversity gap in the nonprofit sector?" It is true that there has been less public criticism of the nonprofit and foundation sector's lack of leadership diversity, but these organizations are not immune to the issue. Particularly, Black women are underrepresented in executive positions within the social sector. A study done in 2015 showed that while 42% of organizations were led by female executives, 87% of all executives or presidents were white. Many nonprofits work in underserved communities, meaning they help (and partner with) a lot of families and women of color. It is imperative that the same organizations address the very same problems within their own ranks as it tries to address entrenched inequalities in communities across the country.

There are, however, encouraging signs that the nonprofit sector is stepping up to lead meaningful change. In support of Black founders, foundations and grant makers are setting aside funds specifically for them, nonprofit organizations are pooling their resources to address systemic inequality, and diversity is a major focus of research in the nonprofit sector. Although there are still significant obstacles before us, we are in a much better position than ever before to make this vital sector more inclusive.


According to a 2020 report done by Bridgespan, it shows that nonprofits led by Black women attract significantly less funding compared with those led by white people or Black men. Men who run nonprofits are paid 5 to 20 percent more than women with just 1 in 5 of the executives or chief executives being a person of color.


When asked what part of your job makes you most happy and proud to say “I am the director of a nonprofit organization and we are striving to help women of color" Habon answered that she appreciates many aspects of her job. "Through my work, I am able to make a positive impact on our community and state. When we started six years ago, African diaspora women were reluctant to participate in the political process. Women no longer hide their ambition and are more comfortable stepping into positions of leadership within politics. I am fortunate to be working with an amazing team that promotes women's leadership and full inclusion, and they are assisting me in ensuring that the organization runs as efficiently as possible."


Despite having many hats to fill and a variety of tasks to perform, Habon found that sustainability was one of the challenges she encountered during her early years as an Executive Director. "Sustainability was constantly brought up in conversations with various funders. As a newcomer to nonprofits, I found it difficult to understand how they could sustain themselves and fulfill their mission. Once I realized I was looking at it incorrectly, I changed my perspective. Sustainability is a holistic approach to making good decisions for the success of our mission. Investing in the right people, establishing partnerships, raising unrestricted funds, and developing great programs are all part of this process. Simply put, sustainability is not a destination, but rather a process."


Many women seek a good working environment and free of racism and sexism in which they find in women led and run office spaces. Women tend to be more mission driven when it comes to choosing a job and women tend to choose a job based on the organization's missions and impact over salary and growth opportunities. Overall, women in the nonprofits are doing some of the most essential work in civic life. Fighting for racial equity, protecting their rights and striving for a world where woman are looked at as an equal and not an obstacle or object.


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