In February our CEO, Dr. Aaron Gross, published a statement on sexual harassment and discrimination, in response to documented reports of such incidents taking place in the animal protection movement. In that statement, he announced four commitments Farm Forward has made to create a safer and more inclusive work environment, both for our own staff and for the broader anti–factory farming movement. From our CEO’s letter:
“Sex, gender, racial and other forms of bias are both ethically intolerable and socially debilitating. Such discrimination troubles all of us and threatens the moral energies that are the ultimate foundation of the movement to end factory farming.”
It has been nine months since that post, and this is our progress report. It is our hope that, by sharing our own process, we will encourage other organizations to do the same and stimulate discussion and sharing amongst organizations for the overall improvement of our movement.
While our efforts are ongoing, the steps we’ve already taken have transformed our own organization and are shaping our strategy for our work going forward. While these commitments pertain primarily to Farm Forward’s internal policies and practices, this internal work dovetails with our efforts to adopt approaches and strategies for fighting factory farming that reflect a deeper understanding of intersectionality and social justice.
One significant area of change is in Farm Forward’s leadership. This December our board voted in five new board members. One of our priorities in selecting new board members was recruiting individuals who are committed to promoting values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our own workplace and in the work we do to fight factory farming. Our new board composition also better reflects the gender and racial diversity of the communities we work in and with.
We believe that our effectiveness in fighting factory farming benefits from Farm Forward having a culture that welcomes discussion about race, gender, and social justice issues. We encourage staff to develop innovative ways to resist factory farming that not only address animal suffering and ecological concerns, but other issues of justice. Conversations about the connections between animal abuse, racism, sexism, other forms of oppression and our mission to end factory farming have sprung up organically and with the enthusiasm of our executive team. Having our team engage deeply with these issues and having structures in our organization to encourage that engagement improves our ability to do coalition work, to build stronger partnerships, and to develop strategies for fighting factory farming that reflect the diversity and ethical complexity in our food system.
The following is our update on our progress:
Our first task was to hire an outside consultant that could ensure the impartiality necessary for real introspection and critical evaluation. To ensure the consultant would be able to critically evaluate the highest levels of Farm Forward’s leadership, both our board and our CEO removed themselves from any involvement in identifying and hiring the consultant, which was carried out by a committee of staff1. In June 2018 this committee hired a highly reputed, independent Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consultant with over 20 years of experience, Jackie Yerby, to assess our organization in terms of its workplace culture and practices, and to recommend ways for us to improve.
Commitment 1: “Farm Forward already has a robust policy against sexual and other forms of harassment that describes in clear details our expectations of all employees. It is in fact the first policy we ever created and the first in our handbook. We are in the process of engaging the entire staff in a review of these policies, including instituting new training procedures.”
Update: After conducting anonymous surveys and interviews with all Farm Forward employees and several of our consulting and advisory team members (see more below) our independent consultant presented her initial findings and recommendations to our entire team in October 2018. The “Executive Summary” of our consultant’s report is printed, in full, at the end of this post. It specifies numerous strengths and certain challenges that the survey and interviews surfaced. Overall, we are happy with what this process has revealed about Farm Forward’s workplace culture and the commitment of our leadership and staff to values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This culture is best captured, perhaps, by a quote from the interviews that the consultant opens the report with: “When we’re good we’re still trying to get better.”
The consultant’s report included several recommendations for improvement and we are taking the following steps to follow those recommendations:
- We have revised our employee handbook to better reflect our commitments to our staff. We presented our revised handbook to staff on November 1, 2018.
- We have agreed to create a new mechanism, in addition to our internal system of staff supervision and board oversight, for reporting and addressing reports of harassment or discrimination. We are researching and interviewing both HR consultants and Ethics and Compliance Software Programs to determine which incident management practices would be both cost-effective for a small nonprofit and reflect our values and needs. Our goal is to have this new mechanism in place by the first half of 2019.
- We are committed to ongoing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training and to continuing conversations within our team about gender and power dynamics. Our February 2018 staff retreat included a conversation about racism and sexism in the anti–factory farming movement, facilitated by our Faith in Food Fellow (and now board member), Dr. Christopher Carter. Team members have led various group discussions and book-report-style presentations to the staff this year on topics including black veganism and ableism. We plan to include Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training—likely a bystander intervention training— in our annual all staff retreat that will take place in February 2019.
Commitment 2: “In order to ensure greater equity, Farm Forward salaries are set according to a compensation formula and not individually negotiated by employees. When we hire new people we openly discuss how their salary compares to other employees for transparency. In addition, we have recently hired an outside consultant whose charge includes a review of our policies for determining salary to ensure ongoing fairness.”
Update: Two years ago we instituted a new salary and promotion structure, created proactively to prevent bias from influencing salary decisions as our staff grew. Salaries and raises are not negotiated individually, but are given according to a transparent formula that includes cost-of-living and educational debt. The formula was revised in 2018 based on staff feedback. We also hired an independent financial consultant in 2018 with more than 25 years experience in finance who reviewed our salary structure and described it as among the most equitable he had seen in his career. Our highest paid employee earns, with salary and benefits, only 41 percent more than our lowest paid employee. Our Director-level salaries differ no more than 12 percent.
Commitment 3: “We are in the process of developing and administering anonymous surveys and other procedures to ensure we are in fact achieving the safest possible working environment.”
Update: Our independent DEI consultant, Jackie Yerby, conducted confidential phone interviews with all our staff members (and several of our part time consulting staff), and designed and administered anonymous surveys. The interviews and surveys were designed to assess the current state of workplace culture at Farm Forward, experiences of staff in the wider anti–factory farming movement, and the alignment of our programmatic strategies with values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The “Executive Summary” of her report is printed, in full, at the end of this post, and we can make the full report available upon request. After seeing multiple incidents in the larger movement in which problems at various organizations have been publicly suppressed, we pledge to follow a sunshine policy where deficiencies—if any exist—are included in our public reporting. We know of no organization that has made such a commitment to transparency and we hope others will follow our example. As organizations, as a movement, and as a culture, we can only go forward if we acknowledge where we are.
Commitment 4: “Farm Forward in partnership with the allied nonprofit we helped found last year, the Better Food Foundation, will allot at least $50,000 in spending to address sex, gender, and racial discrimination and its impact on strategic decision making in the fight against factory farming. Stay tuned for further announcements about these efforts.”
Update: Farm Forward and the Better Food Foundation have made leadership development grants in 2018 totalling $42,500 to four individuals and organizations that are pioneering successful vegan advocacy projects in black communities and providing groundbreaking thought leadership in the area of black veganism2. In addition, Farm Forward has invested approximately $10,000 on consulting and professional development for our staff in 2018 relating to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This has come out of our limited general operating budget, and we would like to raise the necessary funds to continue these investments going forward. If you’d like to make a donation to support this work, please contact our Executive Director, Andrew deCoriolis, or donate via our website.
In Summary: We are working towards 100 percent completion of the commitments we made in February 2018. Addressing systemic problems that disproportionately impact women and minorities in our organization, in the movement, and in our food production system is long-term work that goes far beyond these efforts. We hope to not only create a safer and more inclusive culture and set of practices right now, but also to sow the seeds for a more vibrant and effective movement to end factory farming that can respond to the diverse and complex forces shaping our global food system.
“When we’re good we’re still trying to get better.” This quote from a Farm Forward team member captures the sense that while Farm Forward has a healthier culture than other animal welfare organizations it still strives to be self-reflective, learn, grow, and do Better.
Farm Forward team members have not encountered sexual harassment within the organization. One person did indicate in the survey that they had experienced gender based harassment within the past year.
[Note: The anonymous survey respondent did not provide any description of this experience in the survey or in their interview. After presenting the survey results to the staff team, the consultant encouraged staff members to reach out to her or to their direct supervisor to provide more information about this or other experiences. No one has done so.]
Within the broader anti–factory farming movement, Farm Forward team members have experienced sexual harassment and gender-based harassment.
Farm Forward will develop policies aimed at protecting staff from harassment while working with staff or donors from outside the organization. Should any staff experience harassment from staff outside of the organization Farm Forward leadership is committed to supporting the staff person to the fullest, and to taking immediate steps to prevent the perpetrator from continuing to harass our staff and others.
Team members expressed gratitude for how Farm Forward has been proactive in responding to sexual harassment within the animal rights movement. They also expressed pride in Farm Forward, citing the things that the organization does well. There’s a sense that Farm Forward is safely removed from the problems experienced at other organizations. It has reinforced the sense of team members as a family.
They believe that Farm Forward can be a leader and can play a larger role in addressing sexual harassment within the anti–factory farming movement and the broader animal welfare movement.
Team members are committed to creating an intersectional movement. They recognize that animal welfare is deeply connected to sexism, racism and other oppressions. They want to see Farm Forward help the movement become more intersectional.
Alongside their sense of gratitude and pride in Farm Forward, team members recognize that certain aspects of Farm Forward are worth exploring in light of this #MeToo moment. Farm Forward’s leadership is almost exclusively white and male. There’s a desire to have explicit and ongoing conversations about power and gender dynamics, in particular how that impacts decision-making and communication.
If you’d like to discuss this work one-on-one with our Executive Director, Andrew deCoriolis, or see the full consultant’s report, please reach out to Andrew at [email protected].