NPR employees ask board for transparency in response to harassment scandals

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NPR’s response to its recent incidents of inappropriate workplace behavior is drawing the scrutiny of employees, several of whom weighed in at a board meeting this month on matters of pay equity and trainings around harassment.

The May 4 meeting at NPR’s headquarters was the third consecutive board session where employees spoke about the harassment fallout during a public comment period. Two who spoke focused on issues of pay equity, a topic of review within NPR as the network follows up on an outside investigation of its handling of harassment claims.

The report by the law firm Morgan Lewis found “a widely held belief by female staff members that there is an imbalance between men and women in promotions, opportunities, and compensation.” The report recommended NPR conduct a gender equity study of compensation and promotions.

An NPR spokesperson declined to provide details about the review. But according to employee Jane Gilvin, who spoke at the meeting, the review is examining decisions about employee pay made by former Senior VP of News Michael Oreskes. Oreskes left NPR in November after allegations arose of inappropriate behavior with former female employees and colleagues.

Gilvin, a product owner with NPR’s Research, Archives and Data Strategy team, told board members that the review should also examine influence over employee pay wielded by former chief news editor David Sweeney. Sweeney also left NPR in November following allegations of inappropriate behavior.

The former chief editor sat on committees that negotiated labor contracts and determined promotions and raises for far longer than Oreskes’ two-year tenure at NPR, Gilvin said.

NPR should also ask staffers to add details about their jobs not included in NPR’s data, said Gilvin, who asked the board to release the pay review to staff “with minimal redaction.”

“You’ve asked us to give you the chance to earn our trust back,” she said. “This is an opportunity.”

NPR’s legal and HR team and outside consultants working on the equity review have not given a firm deadline for when they will conclude their work, according to Gilvin.

Nick DePrey, a programming analytics project manager with NPR’s Digital Media division, echoed the need for transparency around the pay equity study, particularly with respect to methodology and conclusions.

“Staff need a mechanism by which they can definitively determine whether they’re paid, rewarded and promoted according to their merits,” he said.

DePrey said he spoke on behalf of a group of employees who have observed that men at NPR are falling short in responding to the network’s problems with workplace harassment. “With few exceptions, it’s been our COO Loren Mayor who’s taken a front-and-center lead on this issue,” DePrey said. “… Most often it’s been only women who have been willing and able to show a full understanding of what happened and why it’s wrong. We’re looking for shared responsibility, and I think that’s our most fundamental problem.”

The Morgan Lewis report also recommended that NPR staffers participate in in-person sexual harassment trainings. The trainings have been more useful and meaningful than the digital trainings NPR previously offered, Los Angeles correspondent for Code Switch Karen Grigsby Bates said in a statement read at the board meeting by newscaster Korva Coleman.

But employees have felt that the trainings are aimed at protecting NPR from future liability, Bates wrote. “Now we need training to protect us, the people who make NPR,” she wrote.

Many employees wish the sessions were longer, more in-depth, less generic and focused on protocols that NPR should have in place, she said, and employees should be informed that they can bring outside representation, union reps or a colleague if asked to meet with a HR representative to discuss a complaint. Trainings should also explain why an NPR lawyer is present at HR meetings about complaints. Being surprised by a lawyer’s presence “didn’t inspire confidence with the people who have had that experience,” Bates wrote.

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