Last week a board member of a national nonprofit called me and asked if I had a #METOO guide for organizations in the wake of a national movement towards women feeling more comfortable coming forward about hostile workplaces. My immediate gut reaction, "No and I won't." She was thrown by my resistance to comment.
Why Not Have A Guide?
Basically, I am not a lawyer and sexual harassment claims and issues are legal problems with implications well beyond my training and expertise. We did talk for another half an hour. I gave her some advice on what to do in light of their Board President having submitted his resignation as news was breaking that he had a long history of sexual harassment. In this case, the issue was separate from the organization (i.e. harassment claims were from people external the nonprofit) and the organization was taking swift action to accelerate a succession plan to bring the Vice-Chair into Chair immediately. In effect, they were handling it just fine. I suggested they have a prepared statement should the organization get connected to the allegations and also that they set aside time at their next board meeting to review organizational culture.
So Why Write Now?
Yesterday, the CEO of The Human Society of the United States, resigned in the wake of his own #MeToo allegations. The day before, the Board of Trustees voted 17-9 to keep him in place. But, the Washington Post's article this morning contains some alarming statements from board members and employees including this from state director Josh Skipworth,
“The organization’s revenue has gone up significantly since he’s been CEO. It’s viewed as a positive shift since he became CEO,” Skipworth said. “But it’s ridiculous to put the business outlook over the female employees,” he said.
On its face, this statement comes to a fundamental conclusion, however, it was necessitated as a reaction to the views of the 17 that voted to keep him...he was doing a good job, so he should stay.
The disclaimer: I wasn't on the call. I have no knowledge of the intricacies of the decision or the legal facts. But, I know that a decision by the board that results in major donors turning away and 7 board member resignations is likely problematic for an organization in the long term.
What should you do if you have this problem?
1. Consult a lawyer. Sexual Harassment in the workplace is illegal and you need immediate and qualified legal advice. Seek the advice and listen to the advice.
2. Preserve the organization, as a board member your utmost responsibility is a Duty of Care - you are most beholden to the organization's future and the mission, not to an individual.
3. Once ready, make a swift and clear statement to assure your donors and volunteers that the organization is taking the matter seriously and has taken appropriate actions.
4. Rebuild your internal culture. Examine your policies and procedures, engage your employees, and take corrective actions to ensure the continuance of your mission.
What should you do right now before you have a problem?
1. Examine your internal culture and review your policies and procedures. Have them looked at by a lawyer to ensure your employees are protected.
2. Conduct a staff climate survey to better understand the workplace atmosphere and bring to light any issues that you don't know about. This should be constructed and organized by an external third party to ensure anonymity.
3. Conduct board training on the major duties and responsibilities of boards.