Study Finds Little Change in Foundation Staff Diversity

Study Finds Little Change in Foundation Staff Diversity

Despite efforts to advance diverse, inclusive, and equitable recruitment and retention practices, foundations have failed to increase the percentage of women and racial/ethnic minorities on staff and in leadership positions, a report from the Council on Foundations finds.

The report, The State of Change: An Analysis of Women and People of Color in the Philanthropic Sector (36 pages, PDF), found that between 2006 and 2015 the share of women in full-time positions at foundations rose less than a percentage point, to 77 percent, while that of minorities increased by just 1.68 percentage points, from 22.65 percent to 24.33 percent. Moreover, among a matched set of foundations providing data over the last five years, the overall proportion of women and minorities in executive leadership positions did not change significantly, with women accounting for 55.1 percent of those in leadership positions in 2015, up from 53.6 percent in 2011, and minorities accounting for 12.4 percent, up from 11.2 percent.

The study also found variations among organizations by asset size. For example, while foundations in the five-year matched set with assets of between $250 million and $750 million saw an increase of between 6 percentage points and 8 percentage points in the share of women in executive positions, those with assets of more than $750 million saw declines ranging from 0.5 percentage points to 3.8 percentage points (for those with assets of more than $2 billion).

The report suggests that reasons for the lack of progress on the diversity front may include the typically long tenures of foundation employees, especially at the executive level, which can limit opportunities for upward movement within organizations as well as entry into the field. In addition, many foundations have small staffs, which further limits recruitment opportunities. In 2015, for instance, the average foundation staff size for both full- and part-time employees was six, while the median was thirteen.

"Our report raises important questions about why there hasn't been more change in the diversity of our institutions in recent years, despite the steps taken to create a more diverse and inclusive philanthropic sector," said Council on Foundations president and CEO Vikki Spruill. "The retention and development of a diverse talent pool is critically important as the demographics of our nation continue to change. We hope this report will spark a robust dialogue about what works and what we can do to make progress in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion."