NOW Adds To Sector’s Rapid CEO Departures
The National Organization for Women facing allegations of toxic work environment.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the latest nonprofit where leadership apparently is facing allegations of racist behavior and a toxic work environment.

Toni Van Pelt cited health concerns in an email to staff as the reason she would be stepping down, effective Aug. 28. But, racism allegations first arose after a report by The Daily Beast in June. The Daily Beast reported that Van Pelt had been accused of racist behavior by more than a dozen former staff members and interns. In addition, former NOW Vice President Gilda Yazzie had filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the organization, according to The Daily Beast. NOW Vice President Christian Nunes will serve as president while the organization’s board will search for a new vice president.

NOW board member Victoria Steele, a state senator in Arizona, wrote in a post on Medium after the initial Daily Beast report that more than 20 current and former employees have accused Van Pelt of “racist behavior” since she was elected three years ago. Two-thirds of NOW state presidents called on Van Pelt to be removed, she said.

Messages left at the national office of NOW seeking comment were not returned.

Van Pelt also serves as president of the NOW Foundation and chairwoman of the NOW Political Action Committee (PAC), and was principal spokeswoman for all three entities. She also is co-founder of the Institute for Science and Human Values (IHSV), where she also served as president and public policy director.

Founded in 1966, NOW is considered among the largest organizations of feminist grassroots activities in the United States, with chapters in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The 501(c)(4) social welfare organization reported revenue of $4 million, including $2.3 million via membership dues, in 2018, the most recent year that tax forms were available. Van Pelt earned a combined total compensation of $169,068 — $101,441 via NOW with an additional $67,627 from its related organization, the 501(c)(3) NOW Foundation.

In June, Crisis Text Line CEO and founder Nancy Lublin was fired after complaints of a hostile work environment, two years after the board was made aware but did not do enough to address complaints to some of the staff’s satisfaction. Later that month, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York announced it had parted ways with President and CEO Laura McQuade. Dozens of former and current employees signed on to a website, Save PPGNY, describing McQuade as a “toxic leader and autocrat,” who created a “culture of fear and intimidation” during her 30-month tenure as chief executive.

DoSomething, an organization founded by Lublin, last week released a statement following what it called an independent investigation into allegations against executive leadership about the culture and environment at the New York City-based nonprofit. CEO Aria Finger took a leave of absence but will be returning as CEO, “with the unanimous approval of the board, effective immediately.” Formerly the COO, Finger succeeded Lublin as CEO in 2013 when the latter spun off Crisis Text Line.

“We have appreciated Aria’s cooperation throughout this process and have confidence that she and the leadership team will implement the changes” outlined in the board’s statement. Those “initial changes” include:

  • Regular meetings between the Employee Resource Groups and the board; and,
  • Hiring a dedicated HR professional with “meaningful DEI [Diversity Equity Inclusion] experience,” who will focus on establishing clear channels for reporting and addressing employee concerns, and codifying sharing equitable pay and promotion practices, and overseeing establishment of new employee development programs for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color].

DoSomething reported revenue of $9.2 million, including $2.465 million in consulting income, in 2018, the most recent tax form available. As CEO, Finger earned total compensation of $226,488, including base compensation of $209,895.