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.