Vice Enlists Gloria Steinem for Female-Led Advisory Board Amid Harassment Claims

VICE Offices - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Taji Ameen/VICE

The media company held a staff meeting Friday in which it laid out the steps it is taking to improve workplace culture.

Vice Media held a meeting with staff Friday morning in which it laid out steps it is taking to foster a more inclusive culture, including creating a female-led advisory committee that will be tasked with setting up new practices within the media company. 

The meeting, which a Vice spokesman confirmed, comes two days after Vice announced that it was opening up an internal investigation in response to a Daily Beast article that described a toxic work environment for women. In the article, a former producer in the company’s L.A. office accused two managers of sexual harassment and said that human resources did not take steps to address the situation. The article also pointed to Vice's "nontraditional workplace agreement" — in which employees agree that they will not be offended by exposure to sexually provocative or explicit media — as helping to foster such behavior. 

Vice is among many media and entertainment companies that have faced increased scrutiny about how they handle harassment against their employees in the weeks since several women accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault. Sources inside Vice say that the efforts laid out in the staff meeting were in the works prior to the Daily Beast article’s publication. 

During the staff gathering, Vice aired a video in which employees in the U.S. and abroad discussed changes the company could make and things it could improve upon.

Among the efforts Vice announced Friday was the creation of an advisory committee chaired by attorney Roberta Kaplan, who argued against the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court. Other members of the committee include former Vice COO Alyssa Mastromonaco, who now serves as president of global communications strategy and talent at Vice investor A+E; Gloria Steinem, whose Woman series on Viceland was nominated for an Emmy in 2016; former Michelle Obama chief of staff Tina Tchen; a former senior policy adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, Maya Harris; Vice's new global chief human resources officer, Susan Tohyama; and Broadly publisher Ariel Wengroff, who will serve as board secretary. They will work with Vice executives and decision makers to improve company policies and procedures and make recommendations on workplace changes that Vice can make. 

The committee is reporting into Vice's executive team and board, which this year added former MTV chairman Judy McGrath to its ranks. A+E CEO Nancy Dubuc also sits on the board. 

Further, Vice announced that it has promoted Sarah Broderick to chief operating officer, in addition to her current role as chief financial officer. Broderick, who sits on the Vice board and will also serve on the advisory committee, is looking to streamline operations at Vice, including making changes to workplace policies. 

Other recent changes that it highlighted at the meeting include its plan to offer pay parity for all employees by the end of 2018 and the establishment of an employee hotline that will allow anyone at the company to anonymously report problems, including sexual harassment.

Founded in 1994 as a punk magazine, Vice has long been known for its male-centric point of view and alternative workplace culture. Much of that environment is seen as stemming from CEO Shane Smith, who enjoys talking up his extravagant lifestyle and is known to swear heavily in interviews. Under Smith’s leadership, Vice has expanded significantly into television — with several HBO shows and A+E run cable network Viceland — as well into new coverage areas, including sports, news, music and women's issues. The company, which operates in 40 countries and works with thousands of journalists and producers, has raised over $1 billion from Disney, 21st Century Fox and TPG. 

But even as Vice has grown, it has remained committed to its image as an edgy, millennial media organization. The Daily Beast report, for which it interviewed more than a dozen current and former Vice employees, looked at how that culture had impacted its female employees. It focused on the story of producer Phoebe Barghouty, who alleged that former L.A. bureau chief Kaj Larsen made sexual comments to her and touched her inappropriately at work. Barghouty, who left the company in 2016, also described comments made by then editor-in-chief Jason Mojica, and said that HR did nothing when she told them about the incidents involving Larsen.

The Vice Union responded to the allegations with a statement in which it said, "We have been vocal in our concerns about gender equity and ensuring our workplace is an environment in which everyone feels safe, respected, and valued, and will continue to demand that the company recognize and respond to these concerns in full." 

Vice has suspended Mojica, who has been running its documentary film division since August of last year, as part of its investigation into the Daily Beast allegations.