ACE takes the promotion of safe, equitable, and respectful environments within the animal advocacy movement to be of utmost importance. We are proud to be a charity that has women in a majority of our leadership roles and that is actively working to improve internal diversity and inclusion—having embedded these topics into our internal and external strategies. We hope that by striving to promote inclusivity and open-mindedness within our own organization, we will encourage other charities to do the same. That is why in 2017 we deepened our examination of our seventh evaluation criterion: “The charity has a healthy culture and a sustainable structure.” We began exploring ways to evaluate a charity’s work culture by looking beyond simply what the leadership wishes to share with us.
Last year, in an effort to understand the organizational culture of the charities we evaluate, we conducted confidential interviews with non-leadership staff at each charity. We hoped to give employees the opportunity to share their experiences and thoughts about their workplace environment under the protection of complete confidentiality. In conducting these confidential calls, we were glad to find that animal advocates were excited about the opportunity to share more in-depth information about their workplace. We even began receiving unsolicited calls from employees at organizations that were not undergoing review in 2017, because many people had information that they were eager for us to know.
We anticipated that we might hear complaints about burnout and fatigue from overwork, since these are unfortunately common problems in the nonprofit workplace. We were also prepared for the possibility of uncovering some instances of sexual harassment, since, as the recent news cycle has made clear—and as many of us have always known—sexual harassment is a deeply pervasive problem in our culture. However, we were surprised and disheartened to learn about the extent of the sexual harassment problem within the movement, the many repeated allegations against the same individuals, and the apparent toleration of harassment at multiple organizations. While it was heartbreaking to uncover these issues, we were glad that we included confidential calls in our evaluation process because it gave us the opportunity to gain a fuller picture of problems within the animal advocacy movement, and to take steps toward repairing this fractured system.
To that end, we wanted to clarify ACE’s role in uncovering and mending the issue of sexual harassment in the animal advocacy movement.
Can ACE indicate whether a particular recommended charity tolerates harassment?
All charities we reviewed in 2017 were thoroughly evaluated on the basis of workplace culture. This means that, for all of the charities that we reviewed and then recommended in 2017, we found no evidence of cultural problems so severe as to threaten their ability to work effectively. This includes Animal Equality, The Good Food Institute, The Humane League, Compassion in World Farming USA, Faunalytics, L214, The Nonhuman Rights Project, and Open Cages. To learn more about the organizational culture at each of the aforementioned charities, including some problems that we identified, please see Criterion 7 in their respective 2017 reviews.
As per our policy of updating Standout Charity reviews every two years, some of our Standout Charities did not undergo an ACE evaluation in 2017. That means that The Albert Schweitzer Foundation, The Humane Society of the United States’ Farm Animal Protection Campaign, ProVeg International, and Vegan Outreach will be reevaluated with an examination of workplace culture this year.
We know that ACE’s recommendations play a role in your decision on whether or not to support a certain charity. However, because we evaluate each organization no more than once per year, and because we only evaluate Standout Charities every other year, they may not always reflect the most current information.
Is ACE able to share the names of people and charities who enable sexual harassment?
Since publishing our 2017 charity recommendations, we have received multiple requests to publicize our findings related to culture and, in recent weeks, specifically related to sexual harassment in the animal advocacy movement. Some people have wondered whether ACE has a duty to publish information related to sexual harassment—and, in particular, to name the alleged perpetrators.
We understand the importance of knowing which charities may be tolerating harassment, or which people at these charities may be accused of abusive behavior. However, we are not in an appropriate position to publish the names of specific individuals or organizations. We made a commitment to protect the confidentiality of the people we interviewed and we make this a top priority when determining what information to publish. To put it simply: if we refrained from publishing any information relating to sexual harassment, it’s because that information was not ours to publish. Sharing this information would put advocates’ safety and careers at risk, and it would undermine trust in ACE’s commitment to confidentiality—inhibiting our ability to do this kind of work in the future.
We find it deeply upsetting that many animal advocates have been pressured into silence about their hostile work environments for fear of the consequences of speaking out, and we’re grateful that a number of them were willing to speak candidly with us. We did not take this responsibility lightly. We are glad that ACE was able to provide a safe place for advocates to share their experiences, and we stand by our obligation to protect them—even if this entails not naming the alleged perpetrators.
What can organizations do to address sexual harassment in animal advocacy?
In addition to the fact that protecting employees from harassment and discrimination is necessary for a productive environment, we find that a healthy culture and sustainable structure are vital components of effective charities. There are many characteristics that we look for when seeking to identify charities with healthy cultures. We list these in more detail in our evaluation criteria but, in short, a charity with a positive workplace culture:
- Is transparent with employees, Board Members, donors, and supporters
- Has a healthy attitude towards diversity
- Has policies outlining a course of action following incidents relating to harassment or discrimination (and enforces those policies)
- Helps staff, interns, and volunteers grow as advocates
These characteristics, among others, are fundamental to a productive work environment. If we hope to sustain and advance the success of the animal advocacy movement, it is essential for organizations to respect all employees and to actively promote a culture of equity and inclusion.
We truly hope that more information will come to light so that individuals can make more fully informed decisions about which organizations to support. We will continue to make every effort to recommend charities that are not just effectively helping animals, but that are also empowering those who work on behalf of animals.
For more information about what individuals can do, we recommend reading Carol J. Adams’ blog series about this issue.
Kevin Watkinson says
It is good to see attention being brought to this issue, and i think there could be a further step to be taken in relation to epistemology within EAA.
So people associated with a conventional epistemology (which carries weight within EAA) are in my view largely white, male and utilitarian. This suggests quite a few issues as organisations often reify certain identifiable leaders in order to validate and legitimise their approach. For instance, we could look at the board of the Centre for Effective Vegan Advocacy to consider the organisation probably isn’t legitimised through the broad consideration of issues (so emphasising diversity, inclusion and plurality), but instead promotes an ideology that is validated by patriarchy. This approach is combined with organisations which are generally considered to be the most effective. So Mercy for Animals, Animal Equality, HSUS, Good Food Institute, Faunalytics. So this represents quite a powerful and influential combination of leaders and organisations.
This is an aspect which appears to suggest an ‘invisible’ culture existing as part of EAA which can act to increase the power and influence of a small number of people.
So instead of diversity and plurality that would exist in a healthy movement, i would argue there is instead a narrow view with which people practically need to associate in order to be validated within EAA, and which probably also informs part of the ACE process. For instance we could look at peer consideration, and i think here we need to overtly name the people with which we are relying on to provide information on different groups, otherwise we risk the problem of self-recommendation, as some leaders are associated with many different groups, which also act to reinforce their standing.
Overall EAA may not be exclusive, but neither is it inclusive, and it seems to me this system needs to be brought into consideration as an aspect that can lead to discrimination and marginalisation with associated consequences of some people having vastly more power and influence over others.
CEVA advisory board: http://www.veganadvocacy.org/who-we-are
Roisin McAuley says
Hi Kevin. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. We agree that an organization with a healthy culture must listen to diverse perspectives and use these insights to better approach challenges. We hope our charity evaluations will address some of the problems you have mentioned, and we’ll keep you updated with ACE’s efforts to promote a culture of equity and inclusion.
ACE has a powerful influence over money in AR. Thank you for openly addressing this and stating your role in evaluating charities with regard to harassment and discrimination. I can see how ACE is in a tough spot. Even if an executive of a charity is convicted of harassment, diverting funds from that charity affects all of the employees doing the good work. Yet we need to keep these organizations accountable, verifing that their policies are not just lip service, and ACE has the infrastructure to do that. Keep working on it & kudos for speaking out.
Roisin McAuley says
Thank you for taking the time to feedback to us, Ellie. We will do our best to keep you updated on our progress and really appreciate your support.
Thank you for posting this. Can you clarify a bit more about how ACE conducted interviews with non-leadership staff? Was this done in a way that attempts to ensure a full picture of the culture at those recommended charities? My concern is that if ACE only interviewed a few people–or interviewed people in a non-random way, or failed to interview people who previously worked at those organizations but no longer do–those interviews may have created a false-positive, wherein one or more of your top and standout charities actually does tolerate harassment or retaliation.
Sofia Davis-Fogel says
Hi Emily, great questions! Here’s a quick overview of the process and some of our thoughts on it, but please feel free to email me if you have any further questions or would like more info!
I conducted confidential interviews with two people from each comprehensively reviewed charity, except in two special circumstances in which I was only able to speak with one person. (One charity only had three staff members and no sufficiently involved interns or volunteers, so it would have been impossible to preserve anonymity if I had chosen two of those three. The other charity, which was also quite small, only had one staff member who was responsive to my invitation.) Confidential interviewees were selected randomly apart from two variables: (1) I tried to speak with staff members who had been at their respective organizations for at least one year (this wasn’t possible in every single case, but it was done as often as possible) and (2) I tried to speak with at least one woman at each organization (this also wasn’t possible in every single case, but it was done as often as possible). While I selected current or former employees at each organization when possible, it was necessary to speak to fellows, interns, and/or volunteers at some organizations—either in addition to or instead of employees. This is because some charities were volunteer-run, and others simply did not have a large enough staff to ensure anonymity if I had selected only from that small pool.
I’ll note that we do not assert that the statements we heard from confidential sources are fact, we simply report that they were relayed to us. The weight we gave them was dependent on the number of independent sources corroborating those claims, including the degree to which they were supported by information provided by others at the charity. We’re aware that our very small sample may not have been representative or reflective of all employees’ experiences. However, we did find the process and the information gained from it to be illuminating, and we’re already in conversation about ways we can improve upon it this year and in the future.
If you’re interested, the list of questions I asked in these interviews is here. Happy to chat more about this or provide further information anytime you’d like! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.