How can we Empower more Women to Lead our Major Nonprofits?

In the nonprofit sector, it is generally men who are the execs, CEOs or Board Leaders of larger organizations. Women tend to be execs of smaller organizations and fill the non-officer roles on boards. This dynamic begs the frequently discussed question: How can we shift this balance to ensure greater gender equity in nonprofit leadership roles?

Nonprofit Leadership in Numbers

The latest statistics reveal a stark reality: although women comprise as much as 48% of nonprofit executive board members, they are significantly underrepresented in leadership positions, with only 42% serving as executive board chairs. Moreover, a staggering three-quarters of employees in the nonprofit sector are women, yet when it comes to larger organizations, men predominantly assume the role of CEO.

Despite these disparities, there is undeniable evidence of women’s profound impact in the nonprofit sector. Notably, women often spearhead the inception of nonprofit organizations, with approximately 90% of nonprofits in the United States with budgets under a million dollars being led by women. These grassroots initiatives demonstrate women’s innate compassion and commitment to addressing local issues and fostering positive change within their communities.

Representation at Leadership Level 

Many nonprofits exist to improve the lives of women, children and other disadvantaged groups. For me, this is exactly why it’s so important to have women at the table where decisions are being made. 

Similarly, having a board that includes at least some representation of the people the organization serves can be really powerful. So how do we empower more women to ascend the career ladder to executive roles in larger nonprofits, while encouraging men to address the issues affecting their direct communities?

At Athena, I work with nonprofits of varying sizes – rather than entering into a binary gender debate, I believe we need to focus on fostering collaboration and inclusivity to drive meaningful change.

Allyship and Inclusivity 

One key strategy is to promote greater visibility and recognition of women’s contributions within nonprofit organizations. Highlighting the invaluable skills and expertise that women bring to the table can help shift perceptions and break down barriers to advancement. Additionally, implementing targeted mentorship and leadership development programs can provide women with the support and resources they need to thrive in leadership roles.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to encourage men to actively engage with local issues and advocate for gender equality within their organizations. By fostering a culture of inclusivity and allyship, men can play a pivotal role in dismantling systemic barriers and promoting gender equity in nonprofit leadership.

The Athena mission is to make the world a better place by strengthening cause-driven organizations through the development of dynamic Boards of Directors. Through collaborative efforts and a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, nonprofits can harness the full potential of their leadership teams to help drive positive social change.

Embrace Diversity to Empower a Positive Change

While the gender gap in nonprofit leadership may seem a daunting one, it also presents an opportunity for growth and transformation. Advancing women leaders in nonprofit can have a ripple effect on advancing leaders in all business sectors. By embracing diversity and empowering women to take on more leadership roles, nonprofits can cultivate more inclusive and effective organizations that are better equipped to address the complex challenges of our time.

As we scratch the surface of this topic, I would love to have you share your thoughts and reflections to this conversation.