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Women Make Gains as Largest Massachusetts Nonprofit Leaders: Babson Professors Greenberg and Murphy Research Gender and Racial Diversity on Local Boards

Danna Greenberg and Wendy Murphy

The number of women chief executives at the largest 150 Massachusetts nonprofits grew in recent years, accounting for 26 percent of those jobs, up three percent from two years ago.

These findings were recently released in the report, Modest Gains, Robust Benefits, as part of the third biennial Census of Women Directors and Chief Executives of Massachusetts’ Largest Nonprofit Organizations—issued by The Boston Club in collaboration with local researchers, including Babson College Professors Danna Greenberg and Wendy Murphy.

The Boston Club is a private organization of women executives that looks to advance women to top leadership positions across all business sectors.

The report notes “steady progress in the number of women chief executives” at the largest nonprofits in Massachusetts, as ranked by annual revenue. In 2013, women held 20 percent of those jobs.

Additional Key Findings

  • Massachusetts still ranks significantly lower than the sector overall, where 68 percent of the top slots are filled by women.
  • There has been a slight increase in the number of Massachusetts nonprofits with three or more female board members—142 in 2017, up from 136 in 2015 and 124 in 2013.
  • Women hold 35 percent of the board seats in those largest organizations, unchanged from the last report issued two years ago.
  • The modest growth in the leadership and board ranks among the largest Massachusetts nonprofits stands in contrast to the 14 percent gain in annual revenue at those 150 organizations over the last two years.
  • According to Third Sector New England, a Boston-based nonprofit advisor to nonprofits, women account for 68 percent of leaders and 59 percent of board members at Massachusetts nonprofits.
  • Organizations with male CEOs had boards with an average of 33 percent women, compared to organizations with female CEOs, whose boards had 41 percent women directors.
  • 94 percent of the 150 organizations have three or more women on their boards, an increase from 88 percent in 2015.
    • Only three organizations have one woman on their boards, while five have two women directors.
  • Twenty-six of the organizations have 50 percent or more women directors, representing an increase of five organizations over both the 2013 and 2015 reports.
  • Only 10 percent of the CEOs of the 150 largest nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts self-report as people of color.
  • Educational institutions serving only women, or founded to serve women, have more women on their boards.
  • Nonprofits with more than $1 billion in annual revenue or those with the lowest revenues ($100 million or less) have the highest percentage of women CEOs, 38 percent and 36 percent respectively.
  • Women account for nearly 35 percent of board members among nonprofits with $500 million to $999 million in revenue, up slightly from previous years.

The organizations included in the study ranged from the smallest, South Middlesex Opportunity Council in Framingham, with annual revenue of $68 million, to the largest Partners HealthCare System in Boston, with annual revenue of $11 billion.

The opportunity to join a board depended upon professional and nonprofit networks, The Boston Club reported, noting that major barriers to successful board engagement include board culture, gender composition of the board, and the board socialization process.

“Despite the challenges, board service was considered inherently beneficial by providing personal development, professional skill development, and relationship development,” the report notes. “Women emphasized that their board work was an overwhelmingly positive part of their lives, providing meaning and purpose.”