After a number of women have come forward in recent months to accuse the nonprofit United Way Worldwide of having a workplace culture that rewards misogynistic behavior and retaliates against those who speak up about sexual harassment, United Way Worldwide CEO Brian Gallagher has resigned.
In late 2020, both Huffington Post and Business Insider published investigations into the claims of a number of women that alleged Gallagher worked to keep United a “boys club” and had repeatedly targeted women who reported their experiences with sexual harassment at the nonprofit. Many women also said that it was commonplace for men who were seemingly unqualified and inexperienced to be hired into high-level roles, while women who were clearly more qualified weren’t even given the opportunity to apply for the positions. Oftentimes, Gallagher and former chief operating officer Joe Haggerty—who was commonly known to be a “womanizer,” allegedly often talked about sex in social settings with his colleagues, and oversaw HR for a number of years—were the ones promoting and advocating for these men.
Two women who reported being harassed by the same man—a vice president at the nonprofit—who former chief marketing officer Lisa Bowman said commented inappropriately on her body and repeatedly made her feel uncomfortable in how he looked at her. After speaking with HR about the VP’s conduct, Bowman had staff pulled off her team and moved to different roles and her performance rating was downgraded. Then, she was called into Gallagher’s office and abruptly fired, with the only explanation being that she was no longer needed because he’d hired someone else to handle her role. “I was beyond blindsided,” Bowman told HuffPost. “I’d never been reprimanded, fired—nothing less than a stellar review.”
The former vice president for labor participation at United Way, Ana Avendaño, says she was fired after the president of the AFL-CIO complained to Gallagher about the work Avendaño was doing on sexual harassment within the labor movement. After learning that women labor liaisons were being sexually harassed by union leaders, Avendaño began to advocate for them—and soon was being reprimanded by Gallagher because the AFL-CIO president objected to her “‘defaming good guys who have passed through his shop’ and ‘got caught up in the #MeToo stuff.’” Despite her history of good performance reviews, Avendaño was told employees had complained about her attitude and “aggressive” tone and was eventually fired, supposedly because of United Way’s “nonviolent workplace policy.”
Another former United Way employee claims that she was told she was passed over for a promotion because she was pregnant. “We could promote you, but you need to stop having babies,” a male executive told her. “A C-suite person told me that of course they’ve wanted to put me on the [promotion], and then he gestured to my stomach because I was pregnant.” And that’s just a fraction of the allegations made by women who formerly worked at the nonprofit.
Gallagher’s resignation comes just a week after United Way Worldwide released the results of an investigation carried out by a third party law firm about the retaliation claims, which found that “the employment decisions made with respect to the three employees at issue were found to be based on legitimate, non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory reasons.” In his email announcing his departure, Gallagher claimed that there was “no merit” to any of the allegations. “There is no evidence of a toxic or hostile culture,” he said. “Is there room for improvement? Absolutely, just like almost any other workplace.”
But the three women who had first reported experiencing retaliation told Business Insider that no one reached out to them about the investigation, leading them to (logically) assume that it was poorly done. And in that same email, Gallagher told employees that he had already been planning to step down from his role in 2021, after serving as CEO of the nonprofit since 2009. So essentially, the entire charade of Gallagher “stepping down” after these allegations allows United Way to appear to be punishing a powerful figure and promoting a respectful and equitable workplace culture without actually having to make any meaningful changes in the broader workplace culture that led to these issues. What a convenient non-solution!