The Reckoning at Vice Has Begun

On Thursday, Vice Media reportedly fired three employees after
an investigation into claims of sexual harassment. This follows
a
report
earlier this month from The Daily Beast on a “toxic”
culture of abuse at the company, including some public
embarrassments at
Broadly
, Vice’s site for women.

CNN Money
obtained
a
memo
sent from global human resources officer, Susan
Tohyama, who was hired just four weeks ago. Tohyama writes that
in her brief tenure she has received a “handful of workplace
complaints” which led to a “thorough investigation”:

Today we took disciplinary action, including terminating
three employees. 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.

I know a few people have asked for specifics concerning both
the complaints and the discipline we have taken. I believe
the confidentiality of the process is necessary to protect
all those who wish to bring allegations to me and to create a
fair, safe and inclusive environment for all employees.

The memo also outlines the process for reporting instances of
harassment or inappropriate workplace behavior, and states that
final decisions on disciplinary action are made by Tohyama and
the General Counsel, but no other management personnel is
allowed to weigh in.

The Daily Beast’s
report
on November 15 focused on interviews with a dozen
former and current employees at Vice Media, who “painted a
picture of harassing behavior and company indifference.” It
also further detailed Vice’s “Non-Traditional Workplace
Agreement,” which new hires have been required to sign,
affirming they would not be offended by their experiences at
the company.*

The report particularly focused on the story of Phoebe
Barghouty, who was 23 when she started working at Vice in 2015.
Barghouty was hired by bureau chief Kaj Larsen, and her story
of his harassment and the subsequent decline of their working
relationship suggests there was a very faulty HR system in
place preceding Tohyama:

Months into her new job, Barghouty says she went to a
human-resources representative to voice her concern about the
touching and the parties. “When it comes to talent, we can’t
really tell them what to do,” Barghouty said she recalls
being told. “They bring in the money and attention and you
just have to deal with it.” (The representative disputes this
account.)

In their statement to The Daily Beast on Barghouty’s
accusations, Vice Media emphasized their “provocative
programming” as an excuse for the strange workplace agreement,
and again in their
memo
released Thursday, mentioned Vice’s history as a “punk
magazine exploring the subversive culture that the founders,
the magazine’s contributors and readers were part of.”

But they add that “our company has evolved, our workplace
culture has fallen short. We acknowledge this, which is why we
have committed ourselves to making the changes necessary to
create an inclusive workplace where all our employees can
flourish, while being safe and respected.”

* Update 3:26 PM: A Vice spokesperson tells
Jezebel that that the “non-traditional workplace agreement” is
no longer in use, as recommended by the Diversity &
Inclusion Advisory Board recently
assembled
by the company.

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