A majority of African-Americans working in the philanthropic sector do not believe they have real opportunities for meaningful leadership roles within the sector, according to a new report from the Association of Black Foundation Executives.
The report found that in 2012 only 3% of chief executives and 7% of trustees at philanthropic organizations in the U.S. were African-American, while the percentage of African-American professional staff and program officers had declined slightly from 10% and 17% in 2010 to 9% and 16% in 2012.
Seventy-two percent of study participants believed that African Americans were making some progress as staff at grantmaking institutions, but that leadership roles were not substantial.
The study was based on interviews and focus groups with current and former African-American foundation staff and executives conducted in partnership with the Black Philanthropic Network, and on a survey developed by LM Strategies Consulting.
Asked why African-American philanthropic professionals left grantmaking work, 41% of respondents said their role within the institutions did not allow them to work directly with communities, 65% said they had found professional growth opportunities elsewhere, and 22% said they had been pushed out.
The study also identified challenges to the retention of African-American foundation professionals. Forty-four percent of respondents cited a sense of isolation owing to politics, lack of a diverse staff and/or a glass ceiling at the middle management level.
Forty-five percent pointed to an overly bureaucratic organizational culture and limited professional-track training, pipeline networks and support systems.
And program officers especially felt that their expertise was not valued or trusted by colleagues.
The report made several recommendations.
It said executive leadership teams at foundations should do more to identify and implement solutions to high turnover and attrition among African-American professionals in philanthropy. They should also do more to collect and analyze employment data for African-Americans in the sector.
The report said foundations should provide mentoring to develop the leadership capacity of African-American staffers.
Finally, regional associations of grant makers should do more to support the retention of African-American professionals in the sector.
“Retention strategies are much more about changing the culture of philanthropy as well as providing diverse leaders with the ‘armor’ and protective factors they need to survive in foundation environments, particularly if they are leaders on issues of racial and social justice,” ABFE president Susan Taylor Batten said in a statement.
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