Like just about everyone in the animal welfare world, I’ve followed the news coverage involving the recent allegations of sexual misconduct against—and subsequent resignation by—Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). On one hand, I'm stunned and disappointed; on the other hand, maybe I’m not surprised.
Recent media coverage of HSUS suggests that the organization, as led by Pacelle, supports a “sexualized culture” that values women more for their looks than their intellect or their abilities. That’s not hard to believe based on my own HSUS experience—one that suggests a corresponding culture of ageism.
About 12 years ago, I was in a university communications job that paid well and was close to home. I had a private office and was allowed to bring a parade of foster puppies to work with me. However, my heart was no longer in the work I did; I was in my forties and was becoming bored.
So when I learned of a communications position at HSUS (an organization to which I’d donated), I jumped at the opportunity to apply. It seemed a natural, logical step. I loved animals, especially dogs. I’d been volunteering with the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George’s County (PGSPCA) for a number of years and was at that time serving as vice president and writer/editor of the organization’s newsletter.
My application was well received; I must have made a good impression on paper. HSUS asked me to take two writing tests and to interview with several people, including the head of communications, who had been hired by and reported directly to Pacelle. The process went well. I was impressed with the HSUS employees I met and excited about the prospect of doing work I really cared about, although there were a couple of downsides. I’d have to take a significant salary cut and give up my private office. I wouldn’t be able to bring foster dogs to work, and—worst of all—I’d have a long, miserable commute. I asked about telecommuting two days a week and the communications director told me that wouldn’t be a problem.
So when I received a call from an HR staffer with a job offer, I said I was thrilled—and asked if I could have that agreement in writing. She said the communications director hadn’t mentioned that and she would have to consult with him. She called back later to tell me that he said that wasn't possible because he wanted me onsite to "mentor" younger writers. (Oddly, the topic of mentoring had never come up in my conversation with him. I was very confused.)
After much soul searching, I decided that the negatives of the HSUS job offer—lower salary, increased transportation costs, significantly longer commute, and, most importantly, less time at home with my husband, our dogs, and any foster dogs—were too significant. I declined the offer.
And that was that…until about a year later. I was volunteering at a PGSPCA adoption event when the HR staffer from HSUS (the one who extended the job offer) walked up to greet me and said, “I have a story to tell you and it’s not a pretty one.” My curiosity piqued,I took a break and we chatted.
The staffer told me that the communications director hadn’t wanted to hire me (despite my outperforming other applicants on the writing tests and being the first choice of other staffers) because I was "too old" and he wanted a "young" staff. (I wasn’t yet 50!) She said he'd even expressed this in email correspondence and that he became annoyed when she told him that he couldn't make a hiring decision based on age. Her conclusion was that he reneged on the telecommuting issue in the hope that I wouldn’t accept the job offer. Looking back, it all made sense.
The woman had since left HSUS but assured me that if I decided to pursue legal action, the HSUS staffers familiar with the situation—and the communication director’s comments—were good people who would not lie under oath.
After serious thought, I decided not to take legal action. I was shocked and felt wronged, but a year had passed and I’d moved on. I didn’t want to weigh down my life with the negativity such legal action would bring. More importantly, I worried that a legal battle with HSUS would hinder my chances of finding other jobs in animal welfare.
They say things happen for the best, and in my case that’s been true. I eventually took a job at the Washington Animal Rescue League (which in 2016 merged with the Washington Humane Society to form the Humane Rescue Alliance). It was closer to home than HSUS and offered flexible hours. Best of all, that job afforded me daily interaction with the homeless animals I helped through my writing and photography. I even got to share my office with shelter residents as part of their socialization process. And I still had plenty of time at home so it was a near-perfect job, one I gave up somewhat reluctantly last December when I decided it was time to focus on freelance work.
So…all’s well that ends well. But when I read that Wayne Pacelle’s HSUS promotes a sexist workplace unfriendly to women, I’m inclined to believe.
Just a few pics of me having fun with some of the dogs—and other animals—I've encountered in the past several years. Obviously "past it." ;-)