Vice Media was a seething hotbed of sexual harassment amid a “boys club” atmosphere, according to a New York Times investigative report today on the $6 billion media empire. Despite its young staff and cutting-edge approach to news, the Vice Media culture apparently was decidedly old-school when it came to coerced relationships and other workplace problems.
The Times report indicates that Vice had four legal settlements of sexual harassment or defamation matters — including one involving its current president — but many more incidents that likely would have been actionable if the offended had gone the legal route. More than two dozen women reportedly experienced or witnessed what was termed “unwanted kisses, groping, lewd remarks and propositions for sex,” the Times reported.
None of the news is particularly surprising. Vice’s problems came under scrutiny earlier this year when feminist icon Gloria Steinem was among the women appointed to a new Vice committee on conduct in the workplace. The committee was formed in the wake of a male Vice executive’s suspension for alleged inappropriate conduct and the start of an investigation into other allegations raised by a female former associate producer.
That committee was formed to improve the workplace culture at Vice and institute policies and procedures to head off future incidents at the company, which has a deal with HBO and distributes via its own media channel. The company has major advertisers anxious to tap into the youth market, most of whom undoubtedly displeased at the revelations coming to light.
Earlier this month, three employees at Vice Media were fired amid a company investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and improper workplace conduct.
In a memo, the company’s global human resources officer Susan Tohyama wrote “the conduct of these employees ranged from verbal and sexual harassment to other behavior that is inconsistent with our policies, our values, and the way in which we believe colleagues should work together.” The employees were not named in the memo.
Vice Media also said it was investigating allegations stemming from a Daily Beast report that a manager at the media company sexually harassed a female employee. According to that report, Vice interviewed several current and former Vice employees who claimed the millennial-skewing media company operated in a culture of harassing behavior.
The Times story today depicts a culture born of an outlaw ethos where partying was the norm. The company has admitted to past misconduct. But its rise to prominence now has caused a reassessment of its past. In a statement provided to the Times, co-founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi said, “From the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive.”
They added that the culture, described as a “boys club,” had “fostered inappropriate behavior that permeated throughout the company.”