Top Mass. Nonprofits Slow to Add Women to Leadership

May 08, 2015

Deyton web

Boston Club & Simmons College study says “stability isn’t progress”

Massachusetts displayed little progress in adding women to board and chief executive positions of major nonprofits over the last two years, according to a new study by The Boston Club’s 2015 Census of Women Directors and Chief Executives of Massachusetts’ Largest Nonprofit Organizations in partnership with Simmons College.

The Boston Club and Simmons’s analysis of the state’s top 150 nonprofits, determined by revenue, showed only a 1 percent increase in women board members in two years.

“In the first nonprofit census two years ago, we were pleased to find 35 percent women board members, which is much higher than for-profit public companies in Massachusetts, “ said Patricia Deyton, Co-author of the study and Faculty Director of the Center for Gender in Organizations at Simmons College. “At some point in time these organizations made some good decisions and we hope the lack of progress over this two-year period doesn't indicate a trend."

The research also shows that boards with 50 percent women were more likely to have a woman CEO. Brown said that underscores the need to push for gender parity on boards: they hire the CEO.

The 13 percent increase in the actual number of women chief executives (from 30 to 34) is another bright spot in the research, which is based on IRS filings that are then verified with each organization.

Why does this matter?

The 150 largest nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts that were studied generated $62.7 billion in revenues in 2012, the most recent year for which information is available. They include major hospitals and universities and account for the jobs of one in every six employed persons in Massachusetts.  Nearly 49 percent of all employees in Massachusetts are women.

“These are large boards serving major organizations; the smallest on the list have $65 million a year in revenue.  Why aren’t there more women involved?” asked Beverly A. Brown, Chair of the Club’s Nonprofit Board Committee.

The slow pace of progress revealed in this nonprofit census mirrors the glacial pace of gender diversity on the boards and in C-suites of the largest public companies in Massachusetts, which the Club has reported for 14 years, although the nonprofit ranks of women in leadership are larger.

The Boston Club, whose mission is to impel advancement of women to top leadership positions, has placed over 200 women on nonprofit boards over the last 20 years. The Boston Club believes that the advancement of women to significant and visible leadership positions in all types of businesses will have lasting and meaningful impact on business performance and the economic health of our communities.

“There is an ample supply of qualified women ready to add their skills and talent to the leadership of nonprofit boards and executive suites from the ranks of our Club and beyond,” said Claire Muhm, President of The Boston Club.  “We will continue to share the resumes of these impressive candidates with the top nonprofits to help them diversify their leadership." 

Helen Drinan, President of Simmons College, noted that all 150 nonprofits included in the study have at least one woman on their board of directors.

She said she hopes the census report “will be a call to action for nonprofit organizations to increase their efforts related to gender diversity.”
Brown offered a specific call to action: “If each of these 150 nonprofits replaced one male board member with a woman in the next two years, we’d reach 40 percent and be well on our way to parity.”

Among the key findings:

  • 14 out of 150 organizations have over $1B annual revenues; 4 of them are led by women
  • Only 1 percent increase in the percentage of women board members (from 35 percent to 36 percent)
  • The actual number of women holding board seats declined, mirroring a decline in the total number of seats
  • 22 (15 percent) organizations have boards with at least 50 percent women, an increase of only 1 organization in two years
  • The total percentage of organizations with women chief executives increased by 3 percent (20 percent to 23 percent)

The full report, unveiled at The Boston Club’s Community Salute at the Westin Hotel Copley Place this morning [May 8], where Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of YWCA USA gave the keynote address, is available on The Boston Club website,