For those of you unfamiliar, the SRE Network (Safety, Respect, Equity) was founded in 2018 in response to the #MeToo movement which swept through the Jewish private and nonprofit sectors as well, exposing many well-known abusers and finally allowing the stories of their victims to be told. The goal of the SRE Network was to documenting their testimonies, develop robust organizational policies for Jewish institutions, support respectful workplace training, improve hiring and advancement practices, and further gender equity in the rabbinate.
Since then they’ve done incredible work, pouring funding into efforts that have led to measurable improvements in currently accepted best practices across those sectors, and creating a space for dialogue and development of best-practices based policy recommendations for member institutions.
With a couple of notable exceptions.
One in particular.
In 2019 I was made aware of sexual harassment committed by a now-former board member of a prominent SRE member organization. Following complaints by staff of this organization to the board, the employees who complained were retaliated against and were made to sign NDAs as a condition of their severance. At the time I approached the new executive director of that member organization and attempted to convince her to resolve the outstanding claims to the satisfaction of the victims. On the advice of experts in the field, a number of recommendations were made to this executive director on how to resolve the outstanding issue. While this executive director had originally shown good faith on the issue, she very quickly started pushing the company line, so to speak, secure in the knowledge that the victims of the harassment were muzzled by the NDAs they’d been made to sign.
This organization then joined SRE.
Mind you, by the time they joined, what had happened with their former board member was a somewhat open secret within the Jewish nonprofit world, including within other SRE members. This resulted in a conflict within SRE which led to this organization staying and an SRE advisor leaving in protest.
Since then, anytime anyone has mentioned SRE to me I’ve told them this story to explain why I’ve never sought to join SRE, accept any of their funding, or seek any of their promotion. Also since then, as this story has become more well known, I’ve been finding it increasingly frustrating to see how many organizations whose leadership knows exactly what that organization did to its former employees nonetheless continue to enthusiastically work with them.
A few months ago, an SRE advisor I’m friends with connected me with SRE leadership and we began discussing a way forward for SRE in light of their malfeasant member’s unrepentant refusal to resolve what they did to their former employees. For the most part I’ve been polite if forceful with SRE leadership on this issue.
However, while I understand that expecting institutions like SRE to move quickly to resolve anything may be like watching Titanic and expecting the ship to turn away from the iceberg if the audience yells loudly enough through the screen at the captain, I don’t need their money, and I don’t need to have patience. The fact that they knowingly have a malfeasant member that has shown no interest in making restitution to their former employees makes me wholly unsympathetic to the realities of the glacial pace of institutional movement.
People were hurt, and those people continue to be hurt by the presence of the institution that hurt them and did nothing to make amends for it remaining the member of a network purportedly constituted to promote Safety, Respect, and Equity.
I would therefore encourage those friends of mine who are either members of the SRE leadership team, leadership of SRE member organizations, or grant recipients from SRE, to insist that SRE adopt a mandatory policy requiring that SRE members immediately cease any use of nondisclosure agreements for anything other than proprietary trade secrets, retroactively void any NDAs already issued to current and former employees, and publicly commit to not enforcing any previously issued NDAs. Failure to do so should result in expulsion from the SRE network.
Given how many stories we’ve seen of lives destroyed, victims silenced, and abusers protected by the use of NDAs, there is no excuse for their continued use. There never was, but now there are no longer any excuses to pretend they don’t know better. It would be wildly hypocritical to stand on the shoulders of those who led the #MeToo movement while clinging to the instruments that necessitated the movement in the first place.
Any SRE member that refuses to comply with this policy should rightly have a lot of explaining to do as to why they’re reluctant to adopt this policy.