Dr. Leana Wen announced on Tuesday afternoon that after she had served less than a year as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the national women’s organization has decided to end her employment.
“I just learned that the @PPFA Board ended my employment at a secret meeting,” she tweeted. “We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”
Wen, a Chinese immigrant who previously was the head of Baltimore’s health department, was appointed president last September. She was the first physician in nearly 50 years ― and only the second ever ― to be named Planned Parenthood’s president.
A person familiar with the situation told HuffPost that the real issue was that, under Wen, morale was low and “the organization was bleeding staff.”
“This had everything to do with her management style and challenges with her leadership,” the source said, requesting anonymity to speak freely. “Everything from creating a culture of mistrust among staff, having a very insular communication style. Only wanting to talk and communicate with a small number of people she brought in. Not wanting to work with existing experts.”
The source added that Planned Parenthood connected her with a leadership coach to work on her skills, but the board unanimously decided to let her go after the issues could not be resolved.
The board had been in negotiation with Wen for weeks over her departure. She was given the opportunity to resign, but did not do so.
In February, BuzzFeed reported that two other top employees were leaving Planned Parenthood. And staffers were taken aback by a 182-page handbook that Wen’s team brought to the organization about how to work under the new president. The “Special Assistant Guide” from the Baltimore City Health Department had tips for office demeanor (“Make sure to frequently look up [from Twitter] and make eye contact with Dr. Wen to see if she is trying to communicate urgent information”) and language use (“Dr. Wen ‘learns’ not ‘hears’”).
HuffPost also viewed the handbook. Many of the points in the document were etiquette and decorum tips that were either micromanaging or seemed obvious ― something that wouldn’t need to be told to professionals. Some more examples:
First thing in the morning: All emails from Dr. Wen sent the night before should be answered immediately before anything else is done.
Must have work done that day.
Even when the day is hectic and stressful, treat everyone with whom you interact with patience and respect.
A person close to the organization said the staff bristled at Wen’s management style. The day before she started at Planned Parenthood, a memo went out to the communications team saying that from then on, Wen had to personally sign off on every interaction with a reporter and those interactions all had to be logged, creating a slow, cumbersome process.
Wen posted a full statement to Twitter just minutes after her initial tweet on Tuesday, writing that she was leaving the health organization over “philosophical differences” between herself and the board chairs.
“I believe that the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the majority of Americans who understand reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is,” Wen wrote.
“I am leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood,” she continued.
Wen later tweeted a letter addressed to her Planned Parenthood colleagues, thanking them for their hard work. She also doubled down on the claim that she and the organization parted ways over philosophical differences, writing that the organization wanted to prioritize abortion care while she wanted to advocate for a “broad range of public health policies.”
The person close to Planned Parenthood took issue with that statement, saying it showed the issues with Wen’s approach.
“Planned Parenthood sits at an intersection of health care delivery and advocacy and political work, and her pointing out that there’s a philosophical difference there only reiterates that she was the wrong choice, because she didn’t see how all of those need to be a necessary part of the conversation,” the person said. “She also didn’t want to learn and had no interest from the experts both inside and outside Planned Parenthood.”
A spokesperson for Wen responded to the claims that it was her leadership style, not philosophical differences, that pushed her out.
“Dr. Wen was making big changes. The organization hired her to realign the organization,” the spokesperson told HuffPost on Tuesday night. “This should not have been a surprise to them as this is the direction she described to the board before they unanimously chose her. She had to bring on staff aligned with her vision and who had public health expertise. She made major leadership changes, which were not always popular. Change in a complex organization like this is hard. The board knew that and should have stood by her as she implemented that vision.”
Planned Parenthood Federation of America board chairs Aimee Cunningham and Jennie Rosenthal thanked Wen for her service in a Tuesday afternoon statement to HuffPost.
“We thank Dr. Leana Wen for her service to Planned Parenthood in such a pivotal time and extend our best wishes for her continued success,” they wrote.
Cunningham and Rosenthal announced that Planned Parenthood board member Alexis McGill Johnson had been named the acting president of the organization.
“I am proud to step in to serve as Acting President and facilitate a smooth leadership transition in this critical moment for Planned Parenthood and the patients and communities we serve,” McGill Johnson said in a statement. “I thank Dr. Wen for her service and her commitment to patients. I look forward to getting to work alongside the incredible team at Planned Parenthood who work every single day to help people access high quality reproductive health care.”
This article has been updated with information about the handbook.