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#MeToo and Philanthropy: 3 Things We Can Do to Improve our Workplace Practices

Thursday, May 24, 2018

By Surina Khan, CEO, Women’s Foundation of California

As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements take hold of the nation one thing has become painstakingly clear: these issues are pervasive. While the first stories emerged out of Hollywood and the halls of Congress, #MeToo stories are everywhere. Philanthropy and the non-profit social justice sectors are not exempt from perpetuating toxic workplace environments.

Last month, the philanthropic and non-profit sectors were stunned by allegations that senior leadership at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation had perpetuated a culture of toxicity and abuse. While the allegations are shocking, unfortunately, they are not surprising. It is a long-overdue call for the philanthropic sector to take stock.

As The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported recently, 5 percent of fundraisers who had been harassed said at least one incident involved a donor; 39 percent cited harassment by a colleague. 16 percent of fundraisers said they had witnessed sexual harassment and 26 percent had been told about harassment.

So what does this mean for philanthropy? What is our role in the #MeToo movement? Are we complicit? Or are we creating cultures and norms that allow for discriminatory practices and sexual harassment claims to be investigated and addressed promptly? Do we overemphasize growth or do we align our practices with social justice values? Are we creating workplaces and supporting efforts that address gender, race and class power dynamics?

Disproportionately, young women, low-income women, queer and trans folks, Black women, Latino women, Asian Pacific Islander women, Indigenous women, Muslim women, mothers, caregivers, women who are differently abled, and immigrant women are more likely to experience harassment and discrimination at work. In the non-profit sector, 75 percent of all workers and volunteers are women. According to the Pew Research Center, forty-two percent of working women in the US have faced discrimination on the job because of their gender.

So what can we do?

As social good philanthropic organizations, how can we develop practices and grantmaking strategies that address sexual harassment and toxic workplace environments? How can we interact with one another in ways that affirm and support one another towards advancing gender, racial, and economic justice? Here are three practices we at the Women’s Foundation of California are currently utilizing to cultivate and support open, self-reflective, and affirming work environments:

  1. As a community foundation working for gender, racial and economic justice, we consistently practice our values in our internal and external work. By clearly identifying our values we have a barometer to test our effectiveness and our decisions.
  2. We support and center the voices and expertise of the people working to make changes where power differentials play out to poor effect. We ask ourselves hard questions. How can we create, cultivate and support policies and practices that foster healthy workplaces? Our internal conversations have led us to make changes including eliminating mutual arbitration agreements in our hiring policies because we know they can silence a person from speaking out against workplace discrimination.
  3. Increasing resources for gender justice to address these systemic inequities. Currently, only 4% of all philanthropic dollars in the US go specifically to support women and girls, and in California that number is only 3.6%. We’re calling on the philanthropic sector to center gender justice as a priority in grantmaking and we’re working with colleagues in the philanthropic sector to launch a Gender Justice Collaborative Fund to increase resources to gender justice in a coordinated and collaborative approach.

Evaluating ourselves is just as important as the evaluations we require of our grant partners. Which means as a sector, we have to hold ourselves accountable.  Join us on Monday, June 18 for a conversation about Philanthropy and the #MeToo Movement. An open and honest conversation about how to do better to support gender equity and justice is key in addressing abuse and misconduct.

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