A group of concerned nonprofit leaders in the Washington, D.C. area have been discussing a disconcerting trend: Black women and Black gender-expansive nonprofit leaders are leaving their positions, some exiting the nonprofit sector altogether. Those conversations led to the Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s (WAWF) report Thrive As They Lead: Advancing the Infrastructure to Support Black Women Leaders in the D.C. Metro Area Nonprofit Sector, in which 36 presidents, CEOs, and executive directors shared their experiences.

In a conversation with Candid insights, WAWF president and CEO Dr. Tamara Wilds Lawson highlighted key findings and reflected on the challenges faced by Black women and Black gender-expansive leaders. A common theme emerges from the experiences shared by these leaders from diverse backgrounds: a fundamental absence of trust in their leadership. While the report focuses on one region, the factors behind this attrition have implications for the entire sector.

The report highlights 10 barriers hindering local nonprofit leaders’ ability to thrive. Wilds Lawson identifies three themes she believes strongly resonate with Black women and gender-expansive leaders across the sector.

  • The undermining of leadership: Black women and gender-expansive leaders face outsized expectations and disproportionate pressure to lead authentically, yet their leadership is hyper-criticized and suppressed by the board. This pattern of recruiting talented leaders only to question their authority and capabilities can lead to feelings of tokenism, insecurity, and exhaustion.
  • Unfair expectations: These nonprofit leaders also encounter unrealistic expectations—to fix organizations struggling with financial difficulties, internal chaos, or boards in disarray. And they are expected to navigate these crises on their own, without adequate support or resources—to be a “superwoman.” All the while, these leaders are dealing with microaggressions and lack of recognition for their superhuman efforts.
  • Inequitable compensation: Black women and gender-expansive leaders report being consistently underpaid, despite making significant contributions to their organizations. Even after achieving substantial revenue increases, they often cannot get a raise. Moreover, they often must navigate contentious compensation negotiations both before and after being hired—obstacles their white peers do not face.

Read the full article about Black women nonprofit leaders by Lauren Brathwaite at Candid.