October 6, 2020

Statement available in Arabic, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

On July 6 and July 8, the IWHC Board of Directors received complaints from former and current employees about racism, bullying, intimidation, and a toxic work environment affecting, particularly, Black women and women of color in our workplace.

On July 17, the Board launched a third-party review into these matters led by Grace Speights of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. The review’s objectives were to understand the issues raised in the July 6 and July 8 complaint letters; identify areas to improve IWHC’s workplace culture with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion; and to identify ways to strengthen IWHC’s processes for addressing and reporting workplace concerns. Three members of IWHC senior management took a leave of absence while the investigation proceeded.

The Board also commissioned an independent review of grantmaking and advocacy processes at the organization and fast-tracked a Pay Equity Report and Career Pathing Analysis that was already underway. Details of those reviews can be found further down.

As an organization we are thankful to the former and current staff who stepped forward to share their experiences as well as to our grantee and advocacy partners who agreed to be interviewed. We appreciate the fact that many people gave generously of their time in participating in the various review processes that have been undertaken since early July. We deeply apologize for the hurt caused by the collective actions catalogued in the reports outlined below.

The IWHC mission is as critical as ever and we remain resolute in our commitment to achieving gender justice for women and girls around the world. We strongly believe the comprehensive set of reviews we commissioned and the changes we are making put the organization on the right path.

The findings of the Morgan, Lewis & Bockius report are painful and we accept its conclusions. We are fully aware that there is much work to be done. We are eager to begin a reconciliation process with staff that respects the range of racial, ethnic, and sexual identities in our organization. We are hopeful that IWHC can rebuild the trust of allies and friends in the movement whom we have worked with for many years.

What follows is an overview of the finding of the reviews and the steps we will be taking as we seek to create a culture that more fully mirrors our organizational values and mission, and that supports and recognizes the fact that Black women and women of color play a crucial role in achieving reproductive justice globally.

Morgan Lewis Review

Morgan Lewis conducted 47 interviews, which included 18 current staff members, 20 former staff members, five grantee partners, two grantors, and two board members. In addition to witness interviews, Morgan Lewis reviewed documents and information relevant to the investigation, including IWHC’s employee handbook and relevant policies and procedures, IWHC’s strategic plan, hiring and promotion data, employee exit interview notes, comments posted on social media, and websites such as about IWHC’s workplace culture, and statements and information submitted by donors and witnesses.

The review did not find any instances of unlawful discrimination based on race or unlawful retaliation with respect to any employment decisions. The common themes that were heard, however, from both white employees and employees of color, were that: (1) there is a culture of fear and intimidation within IWHC; (2) management demands a high and often unrealistic degree of perfection; (3) there is a disproportionate negative impact on staff of color; and (4) that all of this is ultimately driven by IWHC’s executive leadership and the Board. The broader concern expressed by most of the staff that were interviewed is that there are deeply held and persistent perceptions that have caused significant harm to IWHC’s workplace culture, particularly as it relates to the experiences of women of color.

The report of the Morgan Lewis review is available at this link.

Pay Equity and Career Pathing Analysis

Nonprofit HR, a human resources firm that works exclusively with the nonprofit sector, was engaged by IWHC to conduct a compensation equity analysis to examine IWHC’s pay practices as they relate to compensation across race. While the staff numbers in the data set are too small to represent statistically significant data across all levels in the organization, the review did not find evidence of pay disparity based on race. The report recommended a number of steps to formalize current compensation policies and practices to make them more transparent. As a follow on step, Nonprofit HR is conducting a career pathing project to assess, and monitor the skills and attributes in the organization and to ensure that employees understand how success is defined in each role and how they can progress through the organization.

An executive summary of the Nonprofit HR pay equity report is available at this link.

Assessment of Grants and Advocacy Work

The review of IWHC’s grants and advocacy portfolio, conducted by an independent external evaluator, assessed the extent to which the organization’s grantmaking and advocacy practices was in alignment with its core values and mission articulated by IWHC. The review consisted of a review of documents and discussions with staff followed by interviews with 20 advocacy and grantee partners.

The main findings showed that grantee partners have an overwhelmingly positive experience with their program officers who were described as respectful, trusting, transparent and hard working. Advocacy partners have also had positive experiences with IWHC. However, staff also described a work environment that was extremely hierarchical; one in which there were expectations of excellence that often stifled their contributions and opportunities for growth.

At the global level, IWHC’s program staff is strong in sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy and actively promotes a feminist and human rights perspective. At the regional level, however, there is concern about IWHC’s power as a US-based organization operating in regional advocacy forums where institutions and activists from the Global South have a greater role to play and more legitimacy to operate.  There was deep appreciation for the flagship advocacy in practice (AIP) trainings, but the trainings were described as falling short in terms of inclusivity and participation of the views and voices of activists from the Global South. There is a strong recommendation that AIP trainings can be improved by increasing IWHC staff diversity and allowing meeting agendas to be set and facilitated with the involvement of people in the women’s rights and reproductive justice movement, especially those from the Global South. Grantee and advocacy partners also called for more regional racial and class diversity in terms of leadership and the Board.

An executive summary of the grants review report is available at this link.

Leadership Transition

Françoise Girard stepped down yesterday, with immediate effect, from her role as President and Chief Executive Officer.

Kathleen Regan, IWHC Board Chair, said, “We thank Françoise for her many contributions furthering IWHC’s global advocacy groups for women and sexual and reproductive health and rights over her eight-year tenure at IWHC.”

Until a new president is named, Interim Chief Operating Officer Robin Jenkins will continue to lead the senior management team and support IWHC’s operational and programmatic work. The two additional senior staff members on leave, the vice president of development and communications and the director of grantmaking and international partnerships, will return to the organization and will receive additional support and training as they resume their roles.

The Board has commenced a search for a new IWHC President. The Search Committee will be co-chaired by Board Chair Kathleen Regan and Vice Chair Sisonke Msimang. The search process will be inclusive and involve staff.

Board Actions

The IWHC Board accepts the findings and recommendations in the three reviews. Among other actions, the Board and IWHC will prioritize the following:

  • Prioritize diversity in hiring and recruitment practices at all levels of the organization and the Board;
  • Continue the work initiated during this crisis period, which has focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. A new Board Committee will be established to lead this work and drive additional aspects of transforming organizational culture;
  • Strengthen the role of human resources and ensure there is a process for staff to raise concerns anonymously;
  • Implement the practices outlined in the career pathing recommendations, including creating transparent guidelines for merit raises and promotions;
  • Review the composition and structure of the Board and consider additional policies and practices to ensure alignment and effectiveness with the IWHC mission; and
  • Work together with staff to consider the recommendations developed by grantee and advocacy partners in its grantmaking, advocacy, and Advocacy in Practice training with particular attention to the recommendations around reexamining IWHC’s role in regional advocacy meetings and greater alignment through a more diverse leadership and board composition.

As we put our shoulder to the wheel to begin a new chapter, we believe our mission of advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls worldwide is as critical as ever.

The Board’s initial statement, available here.
Board update of July 27, 2020, available here.
Board update of August 19, 2020, available here.