Race to Lead Boston | City of Ideas

Race to Lead
Posted 11/02/2017 by Jennifer Aronson, Associate Vice President for Program


--My 4 year-old, Audrey, referring to her little sister: “Eleanor just poked my eyeball!!”
--Me: “You’re okay sweetheart, just use your other one.”
--Audrey: “But I need them BOTH!!”


My parenting tactics aside, boy is Audrey right!  I cannot recall a time when we needed both of our eyes more than we do now.

On October 18th I had the honor of moderating a panel of inspiring local leaders to digest and translate the striking findings from the Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead report.  The report calls into question some common assumptions around what it takes to increase leadership diversity in the nonprofit sector, and its findings point to a new narrative: to increase the number of People of Color leaders, the nonprofit sector needs to begin by addressing the practices and biases of nonprofit organizations themselves.

In a powerful, courageous, and informative conversation (which you can view here) four amazing panelists helped us see what it looks like to confront the structures and systems driving these disparities.  Some of their most eye-opening lessons include:

  • When crafting job descriptions, we need to recognize the consequences of degree requirements and other “boilerplate” qualifications that are not actually needed for a role, but which can serve as barriers for groups of people that have been systematically excluded from attaining them.  The reason that such requirements are useful is that they are an indication of a certain kind of experience that is assumed to be relevant to the role.  However, as an organizational practice, these qualifications perpetuate disparities by systematically excluding those without access to the “right” institutions.  Instead, let’s think about what kind of experience outside of academia is important to get the job done, and recognize the authority of that lived experience too.
  • For many of us raised in the United States, symbols of organizationally sanctioned leadership have been Caucasian and male.  By recognizing our own tacit assumptions about what authority should look like, we can guard against bias by keeping these assumptions in mind, particularly as we exercise our own authority in various spheres.  In fact, one of the most powerful elements of the conversation on October 18th was that it demonstrated how different leadership can look, and that there are many ways to be effective.
  • “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”  Whether or not this discussion about structural bias seems new to you depends on your own perspective and lived experience.  For those of us for whom this report is a revelation, let’s remember before we charge too boldly ahead that, as the report points out, People of Color are disproportionately asked to bear the often-unwelcomed burden of representing their community – or communities, for those who identify with multiple racial, LGBTQ, or other groups.

    This third lesson can be the toughest to face, particularly for those of us who are relatively new to these ideas, because it forces us to confront realities that are at the core of our own privilege and personal worldview.

Whether these issues are familiar or new, I hope that you will be inspired to look and participate with renewed openness, as we seek to understand and combat the racial leadership gap in Greater Boston’s nonprofit sector.

At times like these, we need both eyes (and open minds) to take in and process these realities so that we can work together to address them. 

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  • # Bithyah Israel's gravatar Bithyah Israel said:
    11/16/2017 10:28 PM

    I am the founder of a small nonprofit, now in our 6th year, hoping to grow. 
After providing youth development through free cello lessons to at least 40 children in Roxbury, 
part of the struggle is accessing development assistance. 

I am from a financially stressed upbringing, and have strived to create this organization. 

If people of color are going to make a difference in communities, we need the leadership of well-established philanthropic entities to recognize our merit, not just look at our finances. Should we exhibit strength in providing solid programming on a shoestring, funders should see strong potential and help with development...at least in the early years. 

Thank you,
Bithyah Israel
Founder and President
City Strings United, Inc. 
857-919-5171