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May 12, 2023

Following CEO being put on leave, petition claims racial discrimination at Girls Inc.

PHOTO | Courtesy of Google Maps Girls Inc. of Worcester at 125 Providence Street

Days after Girls Inc. of Worcester suspended its programs and put its CEO and COO on administrative leave, an online petition calling for the permanent removal of leadership was released alleging discriminatory treatment of employees of color and a harmful work environment.

The petition claims that, in advance of Girls Inc.’s May 5 announcement of program closure and administrative suspensions, a letter signed by 31 current and former employees, participants, and families was sent to the board of directors. The letter, which the petition says was sent to the board on May 2, included the following demand, also on the public petition website:

“We demand the immediate removal of the CEO and the COO from their positions and any other affiliations with the organization so that they can no longer inflict harm on the children and staff, a public formal letter apology as well as an investigation into this matter.”

As of Friday morning, 106 individuals have signed the petition.

The May 5 announcement from Girls Inc. has been insufficient in creating accountability, from the perspective of the letter drafters, said Emily Dawson, who started the petition, in an email. 

“There has not been any communication relating to the supposed investigation or any other attempt to meet the demands of signatories of the letter from the board of directors,” Dawson said. 

Girls Inc. Board President Pamela Daly said the nonprofit is waiting on the results of an investigation into the allegations before taking more steps.

“We take the concerns raised very seriously. The organization has taken the important first step of commencing an investigation. The outcome of the investigation will help to determine next steps. The Board is working very hard to resolve the situation and bring programs back online as soon as possible,” Daly said in an emailed statement to the WBJ.

The board of directors for the nonprofit placed the CEO and COO on administrative leave “as it conducts an external investigation into concerns raised by some employees around workplace equity issues,” according to a May 5 press release from Girls Inc. The reason for the suspension of all programs was that the organization “does not have the staff in place to safely and effectively provide these services,” according to the release.

PHOTO | Courtesy of Girls Inc. of Worcester
Victoria Waterman, CEO of Girls, Inc. of Worcester

Though they were not named in the release or the petition, the organization’s website lists Victoria Waterman as CEO and Allison James as COO. Waterman didn’t respond to a request for comment from WBJ for Monday’s story about her being put on leave, and James said she couldn’t comment on the matter.

The petition includes anonymous testimony from staff and Girls Inc. program participants, which detail instances of the alleged treatment.

It claims the culture of Girls Inc. of Worcester has led to the undervaluing of employees of color, attitudes harmful to community, and a toxic work environment marked by “racism, discrimination, ableism, labor rights violation, coercion,” as written in the petition. 

The petition said this treatment has led to a higher turnover rate for employees of color than white employees, and a pattern of terminating Black employees. The testimony alleges numerous internal efforts have been made to shift the culture, which have been met with punitive responses.

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