Cultures of Respect

In the last few years, we’ve seen a wave of criticism rise from within organizations in every field and sector, revealing sexual harassment and exploitation, bullying, inequitable pay, and intimidation of staff and volunteers. These revelations are especially troubling in human rights organizations, most of which aspire to create internal cultures that reflect the equitable treatment they seek in society as a whole.

Leadership teams and governing boards have rarely responded well to such accusations. Instead, directors and trustees of human rights organizations often have become defensive, dismissive, or angry. Moreover, when boards have launched investigations of these allegations, the investigations themselves are often criticized as lacking independence or overly legalistic, obscuring the toxicity of organizational cultures.

Most worrying, too many organizations fail to learn from the scandals next door.  Good intentions and superficial amity do not create organizational strength and can easily hide common patterns of bullying, abuse, and worse. Yet few boards and leadership teams take time to study the experiences of similar organizations whose toxic cultures are exposed. The Symposium provides a chance to do just that.

Strong organizations and movements depend on internal cultures of mutual respect to sustain their people through stress and struggle. Their directors, boards, and councils understand their duties of care and have learned from failures elsewhere. Creating cultures of respect always takes time, but even the early steps build strength when the path is clear and grounded in experience – even the painful experience of others.