Nature Conservancy president resigns in wake of sexual harassment probe
Nature Conservancy President Brian McPeek resigned Friday, just days after the group completed an investigation into sexual harassment and workplace misconduct at the world’s largest environmental organization.
The news came two days after POLITICO first reported on the internal investigation at the group, which reported $1.3 billion in revenues last year and has long drawn support from both Democrats and Republicans. Its board of directors includes former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and former Obama administration Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and its executives include former Obama White House climate adviser Heather Zichal.
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CEO Mark Tercek emailed staff Friday afternoon to announce McPeek’s departure.
“Brian McPeek and I jointly agreed that the best way for TNC to move forward at this time is for him to resign. We both think this decision is in the best interest of the organization as well as Brian and his family,” he wrote.
The investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and McPeek’s departure came amid rising scrutiny of executives of a vast array of companies and organizations, as the #MeToo movement has heightened attention to pervasive mistreatment of women.
In statement to POLITICO, a spokesperson for the group said Tercek and McPeek decided the best option was “for Brian to resign. They have agreed this decision is in the best interest of the organization and for Brian. “
McPeek had stepped aside from his role as president while the law firm McDermott Will & Emery investigated allegations of sexual harassment at the environmental group. The firm said it found that some employees complained of an organizational culture that is hostile to women, and that decision-makers often sided with the accused when people reported misconduct.
Tercek had faced questions at a company town hall on Thursday about McPeek’s ability to lead the organization.
The investigation did not name the three executives that accounted for a bulk of its report. The report described a former female employee who said she received an “unwelcome” kiss from one of those executives. Investigators found the woman “credible” despite the executive’s denials, but didn’t recommend punishment.
McPeek’s exit drew praise from Sarah Hunt, co-founder and CEO of the Rainey Center, a public policy research group that seeks to raise the profiles of women and minorities.
“Women working in public policy have overcome significant hurdles to fight for causes they believe in and they deserve better from the leadership of their organizations,” she said in an email. “The Nature Conservancy will become an even stronger voice for conservation when its female employees are safe, supported, and celebrated.”
McPeek had been with the organization for 16 years. He was named president in May 2018.
An employee at the group welcomed McPeek’s departure.
“Saving nature is hard work and we can’t do it without strong moral leadership. This change gives TNC a fresh shot at success,” a current senior staff member said via text message.
Separately, the investigators’ report drew criticism from lawyers for Mark Burget, who headed the group’s North American operations, and Kacky Andrews, who led its global programs, both of whom exited the group after the probe. The lawyers took issue with the report’s conclusion that the pair had not disclosed that they were in a romantic relationship.
“Mr. Burget and Ms. Andrews voluntarily and repeatedly disclosed their relationship in a timely manner to senior leadership of the Nature Conservancy (TNC),” the lawyers Paul Kiyonaga and Avi Kumin said in a statement.
“At all times, Mark and Kacky followed the letter and spirit of all TNC personnel policies, frequently consulted with the HR department and strictly followed the guidance provided,” they added.
Gavin Bade contributed to this report.