Social Entrepreneurs Lack Diversity in Leadership Teams
As social entrepreneurship has surged as a field dedicated to transforming inequities through the power of inclusion, what’s emerged is a profound culture of exclusion.
In the landscape of competitive funding and make-or-break outcomes, entrepreneurs want to work with people who are adaptable, have high learning curves and who can make immediate, measurable returns on investments to realize deeply transformative ideas. And the talent who fit this criteria, governing the senior levels of most non-profits and social enterprises, are predominantly highly-educated individuals who are remarkably capable but do not represent the demographics of those they serve. This is not to say these individuals are not well-intentioned or directly engaged in excluding others. We are speaking to a larger trend in which the people being supported by the social sector are rarely represented in meaningful, organizational leadership roles.
The social entrepreneurship space has been overshadowed by what we term “celebrity social entrepreneurs” (Chelsea Clinton, Daniel Lubetzky, Cliff Burrow, etc.) who, by virtue of their status and brand recognition, headline “premiere” networking spaces (TED Talks, StartupWeekend, Net Impact, etc.). This is not just a national trend — it also exists at regional and local levels. Co-working hubs, essentially shared office space, are led and populated by degree-holding thought leaders, not the people their organizations actually service.
This reality demonstrates how social entrepreneurship is a field primarily accessible to those who come from socio-economically privileged backgrounds — and largely inaccessible to those who don’t. Our work in the social sector has been largely possible because of stable upbringings, family support and privilege. As social entrepreneurs, we have a responsibility to acknowledge this privilege and empower individuals who have experienced social or economic injustice to be the future leaders of our movements. Today’s landscape involves the ultra-privileged speaking on behalf of the less privileged. Even when we do give the excluded a chance to speak for themselves, we are giving them access to the systems we have created, instead of giving them the autonomy to create their own. Addressing this disparity involves elevating these individuals into positions of high-impact leadership at the core of an organization’s infrastructure.