Black women and Black gender-expansive leaders continue to be at the forefront of innovation, movement-building, bold leadership, and strategy across the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and the country. Yet at the same time, Black women leaders are operating in unprecedented times, with mounting barriers and challenges to their leadership—driven by systemic inequities deeply embedded in sectors and systems. The past several years have been marked by a global pandemic, public health crisis, shake-up of our care infrastructure, and a racial reckoning—each of which Black women and Black gender-expansive people have stood on the frontlines of while continuing to build and lead dynamic organizations. 1 This unique moment that the nonprofit sector has confronted has exacerbated pre-existing barriers and challenges for Black women’s leadership across it.

More recently, as our country has faced a number of events that have compounded racial tensions, companies have embarked on initiatives to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion, leading to the appointment and promotion of Black leaders into senior roles across the for-profit, public, and nonprofit sectors. However, without the necessary infrastructure to support their leadership, Black women have shattered glass ceilings, only to find themselves teetering on the edge of a glass cliff. The “glass cliff” phenomenon occurs when Black women are elevated into senior leadership roles with the expectation of addressing organizational deficiencies that their predecessors were unable to overcome without added support or resources. Consequently, since 2020, there has been a significant exodus of Black women executives across the public and private sectors in the United States.  As they have departed from their positions, many have cited unsupportive work environments, overwhelming workloads, and experiences of microaggressions—circumstances uniquely created at the intersection of racism, patriarchy, and anti-Blackness in the workplace.

The Washington, D.C. metro area has seen both a recent increase in Black women and Black gender expansive leaders hired for roles across the public and nonprofit sectors, and an exodus of leaders, some of whom have been portrayed negatively in the media. An area historically rich in racial and ethnic diversity, particularly Black people and communities, with a long history of service-oriented nonprofits and philanthropic organizations, the D.C. region holds a unique obligation and opportunity to more deeply examine the support and sustenance of Black women leaders. In response to mounting concerns around the support infrastructure for Black women leaders in the D.C. metro area, The Washington Area Women’s Foundation commissioned a landscape analysis to thoroughly examine and assess the experiences and needs of Black women leaders across the public and nonprofit sectors. This process was prompted by the ongoing national dialogue around Black women’s leadership and the unsettling stories about the sectors’ failure to adequately support Black women as they lead across the city and surrounding counties. The findings, themes, and learnings from this analysis are discussed in this report and are anchored to the core question: What measures must be taken to provide Black women and Black gender-expansive leaders with the support, resources, and infrastructure they need to thrive as they lead?

Read the full article about Black women leaders in nonprofits at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.