Ep 91: The Diversity Problem in Our Sector (with Diahann Billings-Burford)

by Joan Garry

Nonprofits have a diversity problem. Big time. And I believe this is one of the most important issues facing the sector today.


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Nonprofits have a diversity problem. Big time.

One reason for this is that we’re not doing a good enough job developing a diverse leadership pipeline, especially when it comes to leaders of color (and in particular, women of color).

The Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead Study says people of color in the ED/CEO role have remained under 20% for the last 15 years. Another survey says unwelcoming racial environments account for 30% of attrition. The list goes on.

Eliminating racial discrimination, championing social justice and improving race relations is part of the role of the nonprofit CEO of RISE, Diahann Billings-Burford.

Diahann characterizes the challenges associated with women being raised to be humble in a society that has implicit biases. What is the trajectory that often leads women of color to an early exit from their leadership positions? What can we do to change that? And how can an organization make and embrace change?

I believe this is one of the most important issues facing the nonprofit sector today.

Tune in.

About Diahann Billings-Burford:

Diahann Billings-Burford, who has spent her career working in and lifting up diverse communities, is CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). Billings-Burford most recently worked at Time Warner, as executive director, cultural investments, vice president of the Time Warner Foundation and for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as the city’s chief service officer, where she headed NYC Service, a division of the mayor’s office, engaging more than 1.3 million New Yorkers in a range of volunteer activities.

She serves on the National Board of Directors for buildOn, as well as on the boards of Philanthropy New York and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. Billings-Burford earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University and a law degree from Columbia University School of Law and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

In this podcast

  • What does it take to be taken seriously as a leader?
  • The trajectory for women of color who secure nonprofit leadership positions
  • Start your journey with listening and assessing. Once you’ve found the ways you could improve what challenges arise?
  • Speaking truth to power
  • Being introspective and recognizing the value of making decisions that may feel painful 
  • How an overarching vision and plan work toward managing change