The attendees of the 2019 PRNDI conference were welcomed by President Alicia Zuckerman and NPR's VP of News and Editorial Director Nancy Barnes before being treated to keynote speaker Jill Geisler of Loyola University, who was joined by a panel of journalists to address inclusivity in the newsroom, how to effectively change work culture and why traditional HR techniques need serious updates.
The newsroom has come under fire in the wake of 2017’s #MeToo revelations in industries spanning public administration and finance to food services and eventually journalism. It revealed the widespread blight of workplace harassment, harm and lack of resources for victims. Panelist Sharahn Thomas, NPR’s Director of News Operations, told conference attendants that in some organizations victims don't have access to support, others have no idea those resources are there. In those cases, Thomas would not be able to solve these issues alone, saying, “[this] is something that is typically HR’s space and we were coming into it because we felt there was a need.”
From this starting point, Geisler introduced the Power Shift Project's Workplace Integrity workshop, a specialized training for the newsrooms to better equip managers with the knowledge to kickstart change in their newsrooms. The change many directors and editors like Shula Neuman from St. Louis Public Radio and a fellow panelist, wanted after hearing inappropriate behavior around her organization. Geisler said her Power Shift Project could help upper management lay the groundwork for change.
Other panelists included Robert Garcia, who leads NPR’s newscast unit and Traci Schweikert, VP of Human Resources at Politico. Each shared a story of confronting an issue of harassment or incivility in their workplace. They were united by Geisler’s training to begin the discussion toward a safe and accountable work environment.
Politico’s Schweikert cited an example from the food service industry wherein wait staff used a color system to report inappropriate behavior to upper management, which she adapted for her reporting interns so they could quickly report issues to their supervisors during public events. Schweikert hopes to expand the system to include her sales team, saying it helped her employees feel more in control of situations.
Garcia talked about how he got his employees to feel enabled to speak more openly when problems occurred. He posed two questions to his team: “What do we owe those we serve?” and more pointedly, “What do we owe each other?” Garcia says the results opened the floodgates to begin new policies that allowed for more camaraderie and joy between coworkers and better communication when misbehavior arose.
The largest takeaway from the training that Geisler and her colleagues wanted the audience to leave with was to lay the groundwork for diversity and acceptance in the face of threats.
One traditional approach Politico’s Schweikert challenged was the “Open Door Policy” with the intention to welcome all issues into her office, hoping it would promote a friendly space to discuss problems. However, most sources of discomfort or microaggressions in an office are not explicit or obvious. Schweikert recalled an employee saying to her as the vice president of human resources, “you are the last person people will want to speak to.” Since this, Schweikert continues to tackle this issue, endorsing Geisler’s training and introducing her own system to identify risky characters and empower employees.
In the end, the need for workplaces to both attract and be accepting of all lifestyles must also account for differences in the needs among diverse workers. The rewards are clear: A diverse workplace allows for a greater number of perspectives to be represented. Yet, the challenges are persistent, and as Neuman explained to attendants, seeking out a wider employee base requires an environment that can support the equally diverse needs they possess.