Once again I am opening up the space in this blog to a contribution from another individual involved in animal activism. I guarantee anonymity because the writers of these important essays are in fraught situations within the animal movement and there could be repercussions if their names were known.
With climate change raging and meat production now at the highest level of human history, there has also never been a more urgent time for the animal protection movement to grow and expand our influence. Yet, as with many industries and other entities here in the US and worldwide, we are realizing that the progressive values that aim to prevent cruelty, suffering, and harassment of animals have in some ways failed to be truly applied to the treatment of women (and some men) in our work places. The animal protection community must face down harassment just like other industries are and we applaud the individuals who have spoken out against sexual harassment and misconduct— at times while still working at animal protection groups where there are no systems in place to protect those who speak up.
But what is particularly sad about our coming-of-age to face harassment is that we seem less able to recognize the conditions in our non-profits group that allow for this type of harassment to go unchecked in the first place. These conditions, and some can be called microaggressions, can include:
Preventing Speaking Out
- Preventing employees from speaking about controversial or even basic concerns by indicating certain topics are “off limits.”
- Attacking or dismissing employees verbally or with body language to prevent them from speaking about any issue.
- An unwillingness by leaders to hear and/or respond to dissenting voices, and intentionally cloaking this unwillingness by discrediting such dissenting voices as not being “smart enough” or not being “committed to the cause of animal protection.”
- Unwillingness by leaders to establish known expectations, so unknown expectations can be used to judge or control an employee if you speak out, or keep you quiet so you don’t speak out.
- Leaders who react harshly, with anger, or with drama toward employees who had the courage to speak in order to make an example of these employees in front of other employees.
Encouraging Overwork and Other Employment Issues that Undervalue the Individual
- Setting unattainable expectations for work hours and/or workloads that are cloaked in the ideology that it’s “for the animals.”
- Pressure or insinuation by leaders or co-workers that it’s not okay to take vacation days or not work weekends, or take sick days when needed.
- The implied or stated expectation that you must accept low-pay if you are committed to cause, and requests for a fair and equitable pay are met with a question about your commitment to the cause.
- Failure to encourage and support professional development and training for any employee, and treating such professional development as a “distraction” from “helping animals.”
- Cultivating a culture of “one-upmanship” where employees become more valued by leaders (or an organization as a whole) if they do something that gets a lot of attention (i.e. media attention) instead of being valued for the expected results of their job.
- Bullying behavior by a leader whose actions indicate that you don’t “care enough about animals” if you don’t agree with their position.
- Creating over-the-top praise schemes for leader-proclaimed “rock-stars” in our movement which thereby diminishes both the roles of others in the organization and the obvious role of entire teams that make significant events possible.
- Constantly asking for and/or requiring feedback from employees on the state of the leader or organization, but failing to use that information to make changes (i.e. asking for feedback just so leaders will feel good about involving employees) or attacking the employees for providing the feedback that was required by a manager
- Leaders constantly wasting employee’s time by sharing non-workplace personal matters where employees feel he/she cannot retreat from the conversation without consequences.
- Failing to acknowledge or address obvious leadership disparities among women, minorities, and people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in our movement as a way to end the conversation around such issues.
Albeit not against the law, all these conditions and many others of a similar vein, create a power dynamic where people feel powerless to change or to question conditions that don’t make sense, either to them individually or even for the animal protection movement as a whole. As a result, these conditions stifle the professional development of staff, prevent employees from feeling free to do their jobs to the fullest capacity, and almost entirely mute anyone who questions problems within our movement. Unlike sexual harassment and assault, which our culture at least tacitly objects to, these actions remain largely unexamined even though they prevent people from exerting fair power over their jobs and workplace. They also create the conditions for silence about the grave concerns of sexual harassment, and encourages an environment that allows harassment (especially if done by a leader or “rock star”) to go unchallenged. The workplace stifling of individual opinions presages the workplace stifling of reporting sexual harassment when it starts occurring. Further, these conditions give full license to people who know how to make use of these unfair power dynamics for their own professional or personal gain (often in the name of animal protection) and which, in the end, can lead to chronic bullying, and serial sexual harassment or assault.
These conditions make it all the more likely people won’t speak up so as not to “hurt the movement.”
We are learning daily that these conditions may exist in any workplace; it is fair to say that these are prevalent in many animal protection organizations. Yet, unlike commercial industries that are motivated by profit to address workplace conditions that stifle employee performance, the animal protection movement works toward less tangible outcomes than profit, and our failure to remedy these issues results in wasted time and lost effort meant to address the suffering of animals. This is a much more tragic outcome then just the loss of profit. Further, incidences of sexual harassment and/or bullying impact the career of the victim. So, too, do these precursors. Imagine the lost time and effort that results from all the employees trying to navigate the stifling conditions enumerated above instead of being able to do their jobs freely. Sexual harassment and assault must be addressed. But so should the power dynamics that make it prevalent in the workplace.