Broken Ladders: Barriers to Women’s Representation in Nonprofit Leadership

Women are underrepresented in leadership positions across all sectors of the economy and American society, not just in businesses and politics.

Women make up 75% of jobs in the nonprofit, education and philanthropic sectors, but women hold far less than 75% of leadership positions in these organizations.

AAUW is dedicated helping women succeed and gain leadership opportunities in the workforce by changing federal and state laws, encouraging employers to adopt leadership and pay equity practices and training women to advocate for themselves.

Engage with the Research

Equitable representation of women in leadership is one of AAUW’s key focus areas and we are committed to a multi-pronged approach to reducing and ultimately eliminating this gap across all sectors of our society and economy. In Barriers and Bias, AAUW proposed next steps toward reducing the leadership gap for women and women of color in particular. We are continuing our advocacy with a focus on how the government, employers, and individuals can work to advance women in leadership across the nonprofit sector.

Underrepresented and Undervalued

Women working at nonprofits perform vital functions in our society. We strongly believe that these women must be represented fairly in the leadership of nonprofit organizations, paid equally for their work and have a fair voice in the important work that nonprofits do.

  • At colleges and universities, there are more women attending college now than men and women make up the majority of nontenure-track lecturers across colleges and universities. Yet only 44% of tenure-track faculty and 36% of full professors are women.
  • Women are particularly underrepresented in STEM areas – only 15% of tenure-track engineering faculty are women and 14% of computer science tenure-track faculty are women.
  • At nonprofits with annual budgets of less than $1 million, women make up 56% of chief executives, but make up just 22% of chief executives at the 2,200 nonprofits with annual budgets of at least $50 million.

Closing the Nonprofit Leadership Gap

Policymakers can:

  • Improve data collection on women in leadership
  • Pass paid leave laws
  • Pass equal pay laws

Employers can:

  • Voluntarily provide better data on women in leadership
  • Support mentorship and sponsorship opportunity for women
  • Establish and maintain workplaces that promote success and advancement

Individuals can:

  • Understand bias against women leadership
  • Advocate to close the gender pay gap
  • Take AAUW’s salary negotiation training course

Are you biased against women leaders? Take this test to learn the surprising truth.

Most people have unconscious biases that have been shaped by the world around us. Uncovering the biases is an important step to eliminating them. This interactive quiz* — created by AAUW, Project Implicit and Harvard University — will help you identify your implicit biases about women in leadership roles.

*Desktop or laptop computer required. Not compatible on mobile or tablet devices.