Most of the high-level employees and an overwhelming majority of board members in education-focused nonprofits are white, according to a new report on diversity in education organizations.

And though nearly all education advocacy and reform nonprofits say they value diversity, fewer have taken concrete steps to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of their staffs, leadership, and boards, according to the report.

From Intention to Action: Building Diverse, Inclusive Teams in Education to Deepen Impact, released this week by Education Pioneers and Koya Leadership Partners, pulls from a survey of 44 education nonprofit organizations around the country—including charter school networks but not school districts—to examine the state of racial and ethnic diversity in the education sector and make recommendations about how organizations can build more diverse teams.

The public school population in the U.S. is now majority non-white. But just 39 percent of director-level employees, 18 percent of vice presidents, and 25 percent of leaders at the surveyed organizations are people of color.

Boards were even more strikingly homogeneous: 85 percent of advisory board members and 59 percent of governing board members were white. No boards had memberships that were more than 50 percent African American or 17 percent Latino. (This is not just an education phenomenon: Nationally, 86 percent of all board members for nonprofits are white.)

While more than 90 percent of respondents identified diversity as an organizational value and something they support, fewer had institutionalized it. A third had named diversity as a core value. A third had an employee dedicated to enhancing the organization’s diversity. Just two percent had a member of their leadership team focused on diversity. Less than 20 percent of organizations had regular conversations about diversity.

The authors highlight research demonstrating the benefits of having a more diverse staff: Such organizations have less employee turnover, are more creative and make more knowledgeable decisions, and tend to have better financial performance. “While most organizations and leaders today agree on the importance of diversity and inclusion, we must continually remind ourselves of why diversity is important,” they write.

The report highlights a few reasons for the lack of diversity. Leaders shared perceptions that either their geographic area did not have qualified people of color or that their organizations were not diverse enough to attract people of color to work for them. Slightly more than a third were aware of top recruiting sites for candidates of color, and 12 percent had trained hiring managers in interviewing with diversity in mind.

The report features profiles of some of the organizations, including TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project), College Track, and the Relay Graduate School of Education, featuring strategies they used to increase diversity. That approaches ranged from creating a Diversity Leadership Task Force and Recruiting Committee (TNTP) to holding organization-wide trainings on cultural competence (Relay).

It also includes an example of the kind of concrete but overlooked benefit that can come with having diverse staff: One (unnamed) organization came close to publishing fundraising materials featuring photos of children of color along with language that some employees thought reinforced negative stereotypes. The organization changed its materials—but the implication is that it might not have done so had it not had employees who were not white.

The report includes a diversity audit tool, and a set of best practices based on organizations that were more successful in recruiting and retaining diverse employees.

It recommends, among other strategies, offering training in unbiased interviewing, explicitly outlining a vision for diversity and why it is important for the organization, and having a high-ranking employee who is specifically focused on and accountable for diversity.

The authors’ recommendations fell into five categories:

  • Customize the organization’s vision and strategy around diversity;
  • Focus on indicators and metrics of diversity;
  • Improve recruiting and selection practices;
  • Invest in leadership development to improve retention;
  • Ensure ongoing discussion about diversity.

In Denver, school board members have been encouraging district leaders to focus on increasing the diversity of the district’s leadership pipeline. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan also emphasized the important of having teachers and school leaders who reflect the diversity of the country’s student population during his back-to-school tour this year.