Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Stratification, Communication Tactics, and Black Women: Navigating the Social Domain of Nonprofit Organizations

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Stratification, Communication Tactics, and Black Women: Navigating the Social Domain of Nonprofit Organizations

Article excerpt



Nonprofit organizations devoted to serving communities in need are led overwhelmingly by white non-hispanic individuals, despite generally having an overall diverse staff of professionals (Adetimirin, 2008; De Vita & Roeger, 2009; Ostrower, 2007). The race stratification that occurs in the nonprofit industry can be understood as the grouping of one racial group at the leadership and decision-making level within a nonprofit and the grouping of another at the front-line and entry-level positions within an organization. Despite nonprofit organizations being devoted to doing good work, financial backers are now much more interested in seeing racially and ethnically diverse individuals at the decision-making table (Cohen, 2011). Some scholars have suggested that securing minority representation in leadership roles produces generally positive results for nonprofit organizations (De Vita, 2009). However, despite knowing that obstacles exist for people of color in their pursuit of nonprofit leadership, there remains the question of what kinds of actions people of color have taken to maximize their career success and how they strategically communicate to achieve upward career mobility within the nonprofit field.

Stratification & Diversity in Nonprofits

Defining diversity is integral to understanding the racial and ethnic stratification of leadership in the nonprofit industry. Some researchers investigated the main question of whether minority employees were represented in top-tier decision making roles in nonprofit organizations (Adetimirin, 2008; Ostrower, 2007). When examining the concept of diversity in organizations, it is important to pay special attention to how one defines diversity.

In one study, a group of researchers tasked with determining whether a more diverse decision-making group increased overall transparency defined diversity simply as "[the] level of ethnic and gender heterogeneity within the community's leadership structure" (Armstrong, 2008, p. 809). A report in the Nonprofit Quarterly discussed diversity in more quantifiable terms, stating that to be diverse, an organization's board of directors needed to have at least 50% minority involvement, along with a clearly expressed mission statement with goals that would directly serve minority communities (Cohen, 2008). A report on the racial-ethnic diversity in California's nonprofits discussed three separate definitions of diversity, with one model reflecting the 50% minority board member rule, and a second model which required the target population to be predominantly minorities in addition to the requirements of the first model. The report's third definition of diversity focused on minority-led organizations that were comprised of a minority leader, majority-minority board and staff members, and a mission statement devoted to serving and empowering minority communities (De Vita & Roeger, 2009).

Nonprofit organizations have defined diversity in a variety of ways; however, even though organizations often tout their diverse staff, funders have an overall preference for what they call "real diversity, not token demographics" (Cohen, 2011, p.2). Despite the desires of funders to have an authentic representation of diversity in nonprofit organizations, some organizations appear uninterested in change. An article on a proposed law intended to reduce ethnic and racial discrimination at the foundation level put into more succinct words the attitude towards diversity in nonprofit organizations: "It is [a] policy conundrum [for proponents of AB 624]...whose diversity approaches reflect a framework of "valuing" diversity but do not alter the power relationships within institutional philanthropy" (Cohen, 2008, p.6).

A national study conducted by researchers from the Commongood Careers and Level Playing Institute (2011) examined diversity in nonprofit organizations with the goal of learning about what actions nonprofit organizations should take in order to build and sustain high functioning and diverse organizations. …

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