On October 1, 2018, the Humane Society of the United States announced a Reconciliation Process to improve the organization for the benefit of all HSUS employees and volunteers. Today, the Co-Chairs of the HSUS Board of Directors issued the below message to the organization regarding the conclusion of the Reconciliation Process.
To Staff and Supporters,
We write to you as the new co-chairs of the Board of Directors. We both joined the Board in September and were honored to be named co-chairs in January. Since joining the HSUS we have been spending a great deal of time understanding the events of the last year and getting familiar with the various efforts that have been underway. Today we want to share our observations and update you on the reconciliation process as we seek to fulfill our pledge to strengthen our organization moving forward.
It is clear to us that the past few years were extraordinarily difficult for HSUS. We have learned from all of the work undertaken in the last 15 months, including the reconciliation process led by Katherine Kimpel, that our problems were far greater than what was publicly discussed in early 2018. There were more victims of abuse, harassment and other inappropriate workplace behavior than had previously been known, and there were more bad actors involved as well. It is also clear that the Board struggled to find its way through the situation and in many ways came up short. We let the organization down and, more importantly, let down the women who were the targets of these inexcusable acts. We failed the organization. There is not one member of this Board who is not extraordinarily sorry for that. We are determined to make the changes that will ensure our failures will never be repeated.
We will not be sharing details of what was learned about individuals’ experiences as we must protect the confidentiality that was promised to all participants. Even today, only Ms. Kimpel is aware of the identities of those who came forward and the specific details of what they experienced. We’ve failed to protect the victims of harassment and abuse before. We will not do it again.
Through her work advising HSUS in a host of ways – from anti-harassment trainings, to working with the Human Resources department and the Office of General Counsel on best practices for internal investigations, to the reconciliation process itself – Ms. Kimpel has made a series of recommendations:
1. Professionalize the HSUS reporting, investigation, and resolution experience by training leadership and staff, adopting and implementing a clear, comprehensive, and transparent set of policies and protocols, and enforcing accountability at all levels within the organization.
2. Establish and maintain a culture of affirmative respect, where people are encouraged to raise concerns, the work for animals is grounded in humane treatment of one another, those who come forward with concerns and complaints are truly protected, and meaningful consequences are imposed for retaliatory or silencing behaviors.
3. Ensure clear lines of authority and reporting that reflect organizational needs and strategies, prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, and revisit and refine the social media policy and expectations regarding employee conduct to ensure that decision-making is based on consistent, performance-based metrics and not on nepotism, favoritism, or other illegitimate factors.
4. Establish a Human Resources Committee on the Board that oversees the HSUS’ diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, its handling of employee relations matters, and other critical metrics.
5. Embrace best practices on Board transparency that enables staff to understand what, how, and why decisions are made.
6. Ensure that the Board understands and takes into account the staff perspective when considering matters and establish guidelines on when and how the Board and staff should interact.
The last three recommendations are for the Board, and we support all of them. In fact, some of these efforts are already underway and build on the reforms that the Board is undertaking as a part of the governance review. Our work at the Board level is in addition to the first three management-level recommendations—improvements we wholeheartedly support—that Kitty will address further with you. Although we cannot rewrite the past, we can do everything in our power to make sure it is not repeated. We believe that these changes will ensure greater transparency and accountability.
We are grateful to current and former staff members and other stakeholders who took part in the reconciliation process as well as to those who participated in the Morgan Lewis investigation. And we are hugely indebted to all of you who stayed with the organization through such troubled and troubling times. Finally, we recognize the huge service provided by those who came forward initially, making all the rest of this possible. We will be a stronger, more successful organization because of all of you. Thank you.
Although 2018 was extraordinarily difficult in so many ways, each of us is committed to ensuring that this organization thrives, that everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and that our work on behalf of animals increases in impact and success. We are firmly behind Kitty as she works to lead the organization more ethically and humanely and we share her confidence that this will mean the HSUS is more successful than ever. The need for HSUS’s work remains critical, and we are confident that the staff’s expertise, experience, and capacity to effect change remain unparalleled.
In short, we are sobered by what we have learned yet hopeful for our future. We remain strongly committed to the fights we fight for all animals. And we want to thank all of you for your continued support of our important mission.
With great respect and appreciation for each of you,
Susan Atherton and Tom Sabatino
Board of Directors, the Humane Society of the United States