How To Level The Playing Field For Women Of Color In Nonprofits, Part One

Post written by

Denise Collazo

@DeniseCollazo.">Senior Advisor, Faith in Action, the country's largest faith-based community organizing network. @DeniseCollazo.

When I was in elementary school, I wore a T-shirt that read, “Anything boys can do, girls can do better.” I graduated public high school at age 17 and Harvard College at age 21. I became the youngest executive director of a Faith in Action nonprofit organization at age 27, and I was the first Latina to have a family and continue with a career in faith-based organizing. The sky was the limit -- or was it? As the years went by and I gained more tenure and seniority, the pace of my growth and emergence as a leader slowed.

Recently, I attended a week-long training, called Women and Power, with 50 other global leaders at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, spearheaded by Dr. Hannah Riley Bowles. While at my alma mater, I took a stroll around the Harvard Yard. I remembered that feeling of invincibility when I left with diploma in hand. I wondered what was holding me back. What was slowing my progress?

At the Women and Power training, I started to unlock some of the keys to understanding why my leadership trajectory was slowing. I was behaving in ways that were socially unacceptable for women. And I was paying a price.

At the course, I learned the importance of understanding existing gender stereotypes, leadership, authority and the roles self-confidence and modesty play in women's leadership. Since then, I have referred to the content of this ground-breaking program often to understand ways to improve.

Overview Of Gender Stereotypes

Dr. Hannah Riley Bowles taught us that the central gender paradox is this: Men need women, but men are used to having comparatively more power and resources.

Women are expected to cooperate, and men are expected to compete. There is a general expectation that "women take care, and men take charge."

For years, I have been the most senior woman and most senior woman of color in my national organization. Being a Latina in senior leadership, I watched as other emerging leaders got greater rewards and recognition for their work. I performed work that was heavy on responsibility and light on resources. I brought relationships to the table and had them transferred to others. When I made mistakes or called out things that needed to change, I often did so in ways that were ineffective, given deeply held gender role expectations.

Since then, I've learned to notice and name gender stereotypes. I've also learned to point out ways women are treated differently than men in our organization. For example, when all of the men on the senior leadership team were invited to and attended a prestigious international trip and none of the women on the senior leadership team were invited, I noticed it and spoke up so we can do better next time.

Women's Leadership And Authority

This raises a real question about how women can fully lead with authority with all of these unstated expectations floating around. Transformational leadership is defined as "a leadership approach that causes change in individuals and social systems. In its ideal form, it creates valuable and positive change in the followers with the end goal of developing followers into leaders."

Based on my research and experience, I've found that there is a gender gap between men and women's level of power and authority. Data shows that, in 2018, while women made up almost half (44%) of management, business and financial operations occupations, only 26.9% of CEO positions were held by women. Furthermore, the racial gender gap in leadership is far greater.

I have learned that the key to negotiating for more authority is to create an I/we solution that works for me and my institution. In my new role, I lead our work with external partners, growing both my positive public profile and the positive public profile of my organization.

Self-Confidence And Modesty

So, why do women often have less authority? Is it because they are less self-confident? Dr. Riley Bowles reminded us that women have been conditioned to be modest. My experience in Latinx culture and in my Christian faith tradition is that humility is highly regarded.

Research reported on by The Atlantic shows that if you ask in private, women will rate themselves higher in regards to their skills and achievements. But if you ask them to rate themselves in public, women will rate themselves lower to avoid backlash, not because of a lack of confidence.

Now, I'm learning how to navigate potential opportunities while being attentive to perceptions of confidence and modesty. Recently, I was in a small group setting where an open invitation was made for some of us to present. I carefully expressed my willingness, even though it felt somewhat uncomfortable. The ensuing presentation I made to national colleagues was a hit!

Leveling The Playing Field

Based on my training at the Kennedy School, I learned that it's necessary to be more intentional about noticing gender stereotypes, and I sometimes prime for them by naming them in private and public. I also learned the importance of better advocating for greater authority or freedom to lead to our strengths by identifying things we're good at that a company needs. Finally, it's also important to develop new partnerships and let other people advocate for you. This has allowed me to be more effective at navigating the incredible work of making social change in the U.S.

Some days, I wish it were as easy as showing up to work wearing that old T-shirt from elementary school. Instead, I'm learning to find ways to make sure we are playing the game fair and square on a level field.

Stay tuned for part two on leveling the playing field for women of color in nonprofits, where I will share gender perceptions on anger, assertiveness and career negotiations.

Forbes Nonprofit Council is an invitation-only organization for chief executives in successful nonprofit organizations. Do I qualify?
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When I was in elementary school, I wore a T-shirt that read, “Anything boys can do, girls can do better.” I graduated public high school at age 17 and Harvard College at age 21. I became the youngest executive director of a Faith in Action nonprofit organization at age 27, and I was the first Latina to have a family and continue with a career in faith-based organizing. The sky was the limit -- or was it? As the years went by and I gained more tenure and seniority, the pace of my growth and emergence as a leader slowed.

Recently, I attended a week-long training, called Women and Power, with 50 other global leaders at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, spearheaded by Dr. Hannah Riley Bowles. While at my alma mater, I took a stroll around the Harvard Yard. I remembered that feeling of invincibility when I left with diploma in hand. I wondered what was holding me back. What was slowing my progress?

At the Women and Power training, I started to unlock some of the keys to understanding why my leadership trajectory was slowing. I was behaving in ways that were socially unacceptable for women. And I was paying a price.

At the course, I learned the importance of understanding existing gender stereotypes, leadership, authority and the roles self-confidence and modesty play in women's leadership. Since then, I have referred to the content of this ground-breaking program often to understand ways to improve.

Overview Of Gender Stereotypes

Dr. Hannah Riley Bowles taught us that the central gender paradox is this: Men need women, but men are used to having comparatively more power and resources.

Women are expected to cooperate, and men are expected to compete. There is a general expectation that "women take care, and men take charge."

For years, I have been the most senior woman and most senior woman of color in my national organization. Being a Latina in senior leadership, I watched as other emerging leaders got greater rewards and recognition for their work. I performed work that was heavy on responsibility and light on resources. I brought relationships to the table and had them transferred to others. When I made mistakes or called out things that needed to change, I often did so in ways that were ineffective, given deeply held gender role expectations.

Since then, I've learned to notice and name gender stereotypes. I've also learned to point out ways women are treated differently than men in our organization. For example, when all of the men on the senior leadership team were invited to and attended a prestigious international trip and none of the women on the senior leadership team were invited, I noticed it and spoke up so we can do better next time.

Women's Leadership And Authority

This raises a real question about how women can fully lead with authority with all of these unstated expectations floating around. Transformational leadership is defined as "a leadership approach that causes change in individuals and social systems. In its ideal form, it creates valuable and positive change in the followers with the end goal of developing followers into leaders."

Based on my research and experience, I've found that there is a gender gap between men and women's level of power and authority. Data shows that, in 2018, while women made up almost half (44%) of management, business and financial operations occupations, only 26.9% of CEO positions were held by women. Furthermore, the racial gender gap in leadership is far greater.

I have learned that the key to negotiating for more authority is to create an I/we solution that works for me and my institution. In my new role, I lead our work with external partners, growing both my positive public profile and the positive public profile of my organization.

Self-Confidence And Modesty

So, why do women often have less authority? Is it because they are less self-confident? Dr. Riley Bowles reminded us that women have been conditioned to be modest. My experience in Latinx culture and in my Christian faith tradition is that humility is highly regarded.

Research reported on by The Atlantic shows that if you ask in private, women will rate themselves higher in regards to their skills and achievements. But if you ask them to rate themselves in public, women will rate themselves lower to avoid backlash, not because of a lack of confidence.

Now, I'm learning how to navigate potential opportunities while being attentive to perceptions of confidence and modesty. Recently, I was in a small group setting where an open invitation was made for some of us to present. I carefully expressed my willingness, even though it felt somewhat uncomfortable. The ensuing presentation I made to national colleagues was a hit!

Leveling The Playing Field

Based on my training at the Kennedy School, I learned that it's necessary to be more intentional about noticing gender stereotypes, and I sometimes prime for them by naming them in private and public. I also learned the importance of better advocating for greater authority or freedom to lead to our strengths by identifying things we're good at that a company needs. Finally, it's also important to develop new partnerships and let other people advocate for you. This has allowed me to be more effective at navigating the incredible work of making social change in the U.S.

Some days, I wish it were as easy as showing up to work wearing that old T-shirt from elementary school. Instead, I'm learning to find ways to make sure we are playing the game fair and square on a level field.

Stay tuned for part two on leveling the playing field for women of color in nonprofits, where I will share gender perceptions on anger, assertiveness and career negotiations.

Forbes Nonprofit Council is an invitation-only organization for chief executives in successful nonprofit organizations. Do I qualify?

@DeniseCollazo. Read Denise Collazo's full executive profile here....">Senior Advisor, Faith in Action, the country's largest faith-based community organizing network. @DeniseCollazo. Read Denise Collazo's full executive profile here....