More than 40 NPR employees join peer group to help with harassment issues

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WASHINGTON — A peer group to help NPR employees disclose problems with workplace harassment is on track for a fall launch, expanding on the network’s efforts to recover from the painful aftermath of internal scandals.

Forming the group has been a “long haul,” said Gerry Holmes, NPR’s managing editor of enterprise, during a discussion presented by the Freedom Forum Institute Tuesday. But the idea was simple, Holmes said: to start a peer group that would “create an avenue” for surfacing issues within the network.

Holmes and three NPR colleagues joined representatives from Dow Jones and Politico for “Shifting the Power,” a talk about their workplaces’ efforts to take on internal challenges involving diversity, inclusion and harassment. Held at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center, the event was part of the Freedom Forum’s Power Shift Project, which aims to improve equality and culture within news organizations. A January event featured NPR COO Loren Mayor.

NPR’s four speakers Tuesday represented a group of six employees that formed last fall after complaints of harassment against Senior VP of News Michael Oreskes came to light. Oreskes resigned, and other departures related to harassment complaints followed.

After news of the complaints broke, “there was a lot of mistrust,” Holmes said. “People didn’t know where to go. We had a somewhat broken system to go up through Human Resources and up into the legal division. And we thought, ‘Let’s figure out a way to help that process.’”

The resulting group of “trusted colleagues” would be a peer network for employees in need of guidance.

Ten percent of the network’s employees volunteered to join. The group leading the effort narrowed the pool to 43 employees who broadly represented different departments, shifts worked, locations around the country and other factors.

Hugo Rojo, manager of social media communications, said that as a relatively new manager, “I was pretty vocal about the need for up-and-coming folks to join.”

Few organizations have undertaken similar efforts, “so we knew that we would need help,” said Sharahn Thomas, senior director of news operations and budget. The group sought trainers with experience in media, higher education and nonprofit settings.

NPR has identified a vendor who will work with the peer group over two daylong training sessions in September at NPR’s headquarters. Employees from around the country will be included.

The team of volunteers will be announced internally at launch. One question the founding panel of employees needed to face was whether volunteers would be required to report incidents they hear about, said Maryfran Tyler, senior director of strategy. Though non-manager employees are not now compelled to report problems, those who volunteer with the group will be required to do so.

Other avenues for reporting concerns include a phone line and an online platform. “We want to make sure that people understand that we are just one of the avenues that the company has,” Tyler said.

Holmes said the six employees who developed the peer group will meet monthly to discuss situations that arise. The entire group of volunteers will also meet periodically.

“I will say, one of the really fun things to come out of this is that I now know that I have a group of colleagues that I have their back, and they have my back, and it’s been really very rewarding,” Tyler said.

Watch the full video of Tuesday’s event.

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