Current and former staff members at reproductive rights groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America say they had to contend with "racism, pay inequity, and lack of upward mobility for Black staff."
According to BuzzFeed News, 26 employees of Planned Parenthood affiliates and the national office of NARAL Pro-Choice America, along with 16 employees with other reproductive rights organizations report that employees faced discrimination, harassment, and a lack of professional growth.
"I've worked at plenty of nonprofits, and I have never been treated so horribly in my life as I was at Planned Parenthood, to the point where I grew very depressed, had a lot of anxiety, and cried in the bathroom almost every day," said a former Planned Parenthood employee in Washington DC.
Troubles had escalated enough to where Planned Parenthood of Greater New York's CEO was fired in June after being accused of racism and poor management in a number of public letters written by staff members.
"After years of complaints from staff about issues of systemic racism, pay inequity, and lack of upward mobility for Black staff, highly-paid consultants were brought in three separate times to assess the situation," a letter signed by hundreds of Planned Parenthood staff in New York reads. "Each time, employees of color were brutally honest about their experiences, but nothing changed."
Employees called the overall atmosphere "toxic" and without a human resources department - the situation seemed hopeless.
"Planned Parenthood advertises that it exists as a safe space to protect and support women, especially women of color, but from my experiences, I can confidently say that it does not practice what it preaches," a Pittsburgh employee, who worked at an affiliate office from 2017 to 2019, wrote in her letter of resignation. "An unsafe environment has been created here, one where management is comfortable and unaccountable while employees suffer and go unheard."
Dozens of current and former employees in the reproductive rights field are now pointing out the hypocrisy at their organizations and coming forward with a clear message: The time for “white feminism” is over. https://t.co/qWXRnIjGEI
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) August 21, 2020
These statements come at a time when abortion clinics face a stark reality over their roots.
Planned Parenthood of Greater New York removed the name of its late founder, Margaret Sanger, due to the abortion provider's "harmful connection to the eugenics movement."
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A former employee of Planned Parenthood in DC, who worked in an administrative role from 2018 to 2019 said she was the only Black person on her team. She said there was a considerable difference in the way she was treated from her non-Black coworkers.
Renee Bracey Sherman left NARAL in 2017 over the ongoing racial issue, revealing on Twitter, "anti-Blackness and refusal to address racism is why I quit the board."
She said her breaking point came during a conversation with the chair of the organization's board of directors, Brina Milikowsky, in October 2017.
"I asked her point-blank what she was going to do to address the racism on the board and how things were going to change because I was frustrated that all but one seat on the executive committee was held by a white person," Sherman said.
But Milikowsky avoided answering the question.
"Then I asked her, 'Do you think that racism is a problem? Do you think it's a problem that almost no people of color were voted into these seats?' And she kept avoiding it," Sherman continued. "So I resigned on the spot."
BuzzFeed News reports that Milikowsky did not refer directly to the incident described by Sherman, but wrote in a statement that the NARAL board has "been actively engaged for many years to increase diversity and equity at the board, staff, and membership levels, and to foster an inclusive environment."
And a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood in DC said she could not reference "individual personnel matters," but that the affiliate takes "any allegation of racist actions, harassment, or similar conduct very seriously."
She added that the affiliate offers "multiple avenues for reporting" and thoroughly investigates each report and takes action when appropriate."