Quick Hit: Toxic workplaces in the reproductive health, rights, and justice fields

Steph Herold has a brave and necessary piece at The Abortion Gang today about the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement’s dirty secret: we’re full of organizations that are toxic places to work.

A co-worker once told me that in her 10+ years of working in the reproductive health field, her peers in other movements validated time and again that our movement is the most fucked up. Not fucked up because we don’t have our hearts in the right place (we do) or because we don’t have science on our side (we do), but because of the way we treat each other, and the way our intra-movement politics operate.

In an effort to be less vague, let me make it painfully obvious. Here are a few clues that the reproductive health, rights, or justice organization you work at may be a toxic work environment:

  • You’re expected to treat your members/patients/donors better than the way your boss/upper management treats you.
  • You’re afraid to confront your co-worker/your boss about something racist/classist/transphobic/etc she said for fear of losing your job.
  • You don’t get insurance coverage. The insurance coverage you get doesn’t cover pre-natal care, contraception, or abortion. You don’t get decent maternity or paternity leave. Yet these are all values your organization supposedly champions.
  • There is frequent turn over and burn-out because of low pay and high stress.
  • Your volunteers, interns, or anyone with “assistant” in their title are treated as a commodity.
  • Young people, people of color, and/or queer folks are not valued, are not expected to be leaders, and are tokenized.

That’s just the first half of the list. Read the rest here.

Real talk: yes, this is a problem in the big national organizations you’re probably thinking of. But it’s also a problem in the smaller national orgs, and local grassroots ones, too. I’m speaking so broadly because, of all the movement organizations I’ve gotten to know about internally, there’s not a one that doesn’t have most or all of these problems. Employees are consistently told to just deal with it, that the cause is bigger than us. But this is coming from the leaders who aren’t actually doing their job – you know, winning. We haven’t had a major win on abortion since Roe v. Wade, and we’ve had so many losses that we’ve started calling not losing winning (ie: clinics not losing their funding).

I firmly believe that you can’t create justice in the world without creating justice in your life. Fundamentally unjust workplaces produce – you guessed it – injustice. Which is why I don’t work in a movement org anymore.

This is a serious problem, and until it’s addressed the reproductive health, rights, and justice field is going to keep chewing up young people and spitting us out. And it’s going to keep losing.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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