organizational leaders

Dear Organizational Leaders,
We were deeply moved by the stories shared by advocates who have experienced harm, exploitation, and disappointment while working at anti-violence organizations—this is because we could relate. In fact, some of us quit our jobs at anti-violence organizations because we were burned out and too heartbroken to continue showing up every day for the people who relied on our support. 
We won’t pretend that being a leader is an easy job—it comes with a lot of responsibility and accountability. We hope that instead of doing the easy thing—continuing to run your organizations the way they are now—you will try to make meaningful improvements. We hope you will engage in a process of self-reflection, take accountability for any harm you may have caused, and take the next steps to create a thriving organization for every person that works there.
The following recommendations are drawn from our findings, successful models and practices, and aspirations for what could be. We implore you to take these recommendations with an open mind and do your best to create a culture that embodies equity, collaboration, transparency, safety, and accountability. In addition to these recommendations, we also suggest reviewing recommendations for Anti-Violence Workers.

1. Enable Work-Life Integration: Our assessment found that 65% of anti-violence workers experienced burnout, secondary trauma and/or compassion fatigue. It’s time to make sure employees have what they need to be healthy and happy at work and in their personal lives. Explore transitioning to a full-time 32-hour work week. Introduce flexible time off policies that allow advocates to use work hours for self-care activities like therapy or exercise. Implement floating holidays and quarterly use-it-or-lose-it “self care days,” allowing workers to choose when to take time off. These shifts can reduce burnout and turnover and increase staff well-being.

2. Increase Compensation and Benefits: Increase pay to reflect the value of advocates' contributions and regularly review compensation packages. Our assessment found that 69% of anti-violence workers identified insufficient pay as a challenge or reason to leave their job. Expand benefits, particularly healthcare offerings, to ensure comprehensive coverage for advocates and their families. Provide self-care stipends to support advocates in wellness-related activities. Increase the amount of PTO staff can utilize. Understand the financial realities of staff by researching and staying up-to-date with living costs in the area. Consider budgeting the closest staff person's salary to ensure it is a truly livable wage, promoting equity in compensation.

3. Incorporate Anti-Oppressive Practices: Take a proactive stance in addressing the root causes of violence. Prioritize prevention efforts in your community – it’s the only way to truly reach our goal of ending violence. Be sure to also look inward and incorporate anti-oppressive practices into the organizational culture. Go beyond checking a box or releasing a statement and invest in ongoing anti-oppressive training for staff at all levels in the organization. Consider contracting with a Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI) consultant so if an incident occurs there is an opportunity for coaching. Approaching our work from a JEDI lens also requires us to make our workplaces and services accessible to neurodiverse and disabled people. For instance, you’ll want to ensure your organization’s budget has funds set aside for translation and interpretation services for both clients and employees. The goal is to transform systems and institutions – and it’s important to recognize that anti-violence organizations are part of that, too.

4. Support a Racially Diverse Workforce: It’s no secret that white women are overrepresented in anti-violence leadership positions. It’s important to regularly evaluate the composition of your staff and board to ensure it is reflective of your community and represents the interests of survivors and anti-violence workers. If you are bringing Black, Indigenous, and people of color into mostly white organizations, they are more than likely going to experience racism. You need to make sure your organization’s culture supports deep work being done on a personal, interpersonal, and organizational level. When racism does happen, the organization must take these acts seriously and act accordingly.  You can work with a consultant to improve your hiring processes and ensure your current policies and supervisory practices support the safety and growth of people of color.

5. Invest in Professional Development Opportunities: Increase professional development opportunities for all positions, including board members. Ensure equitable access to training and technical assistance. Recognize the importance of each staff member's role in contributing to the organization's mission, and the benefits of their continued skill development. Additionally, provide supervisors with training to enhance their supportiveness and cultivate effective supervisory skills. Consider incorporating a mentorship program within the organization to foster leadership development and outlining a path for their advancement.

6. Introduce a Collaborative Leadership Model: Explore alternative leadership models such as co-directorship or utilizing sociocratic circle structures to ensure an equitable division of labor and power. It’s important to regularly assess the effectiveness of the chosen leadership models and strategies, seeking feedback from both leaders and team members. Even if you have a traditional hierarchical organization, involve staff in decision-making processes as much as possible. Regardless of how decisions get made, be transparent about changes and why they are being made.

7. Prioritize Survivorship Leadership: Many anti-violence workers are survivors of violence themselves, or care about someone who is. 60% of advocates who completed our assessment identified their survivorship as inspiration to work in the anti-violence movement. Another survey of advocates conducted by RAFT found a similar figure, with 57% of participants indicating they are survivors of sexual or domestic violence. For too long, it has been implied that we should have a boundary between our survivorship and the work we do. We think this is a mistake that doesn’t allow for advocates to show up as their full selves, and disconnects us from the communities we serve. The professionalization of the anti-violence field has discouraged staff from being vocal about their survivorship– workers should not feel ashamed to share their survivorship if they choose to. This can help us reconnect with our grassroots origins. This is why we must adopt a survivor-led approach, centering survivors’ voices in all decisions, while equitably compensating them for their expertise and leadership. Additionally, be sure there is paid time off for employees who experience sexual or domestic violence incidents – unfortunately, staff may experience violence while employed at your organization.

8. Collaborate with your Community: Collaborate with community service providers to enhance the organization's outreach and support network, creating a more interconnected approach to well-being throughout the community. Our assessment uplifted the need for anti-violence organizations to better meet the basic needs of survivors, like housing, transportation, and childcare. This can be accomplished by working with other organizations that provide these services or help survivors access them. Additionally, if your organization is a standalone rape crisis center or domestic violence agency, as opposed to a dual agency, it’s imperative that you work with your service area’s counterpart. This will break down silos and create opportunities to meet the needs of survivors in your community.

9. Listen & Take Accountability: Our assessment highlighted abusive dynamics that are pervasive within anti-violence organizations; employees are becoming victims of workplace violence and discrimination, and when advocating for themselves, they are often met with retaliation from leadership. It’s important to cultivate a workplace culture where staff feedback is actively sought out, encouraged, and acted upon without retaliation. It can be incredibly challenging to hear from someone that you’ve caused them harm, but you must engage in self-reflection, limit your defensiveness, and take accountability for your actions.

10. Lead by Example: You have the power to set a positive example of how employees should show up at work. Lead with transparency and authenticity, reinforcing the organization's commitment to the well-being of its staff. Also, lead from a place of humility, by recognizing when to step down from your leadership position and give up power if it is not benefiting others or have caused harm.

You can do better. We believe in you,

The We Deserve Better Project Team

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