WASHINGTON — Staff at the Human Rights Campaign last fall described the working environment at the nation’s largest LGBT rights group as “judgmental,” “exclusionary,” “sexist,” and “homogenous,” according to a sharply critical report that was commissioned by HRC and obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Based on a series of focus groups and surveys with the staff, conducted by outside consultants, the report detailed systemic problems within HRC — ranging from treatment of employees, including those who are transgender, to concerns about human resources and organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion.
HRC acknowledged the report on Tuesday, and provided BuzzFeed News with a four-page response on Wednesday. HRC spokesman Fred Sainz told BuzzFeed News that the group commissioned the report “as part of its own self-reflection and is a concrete sign that HRC is committed to doing better both by our employees and the communities we serve.”
Three elements of the report, which was conducted by The Pipeline Project, were provided to BuzzFeed from an anonymous source: a snapshot of the findings, a summary of the findings, and a detailed report from the group.
“Leadership culture is experienced as homogenous — gay, white, male,” the report stated. “Exclusion was broad-based and hit all identity groups within HRC. A judgmental working environment, particularly concerning women and feminine-identified individuals, was highlighted in survey responses.”
The Pipeline Project provided the reports to HRC leadership early this year. The key findings of the report are yet to be shared with staff, as was promised by the organization.
Chad Griffin, HRC’s president, provided BuzzFeed News with a statement about the report, saying, “Like many organizations and companies throughout our country, HRC has embarked on a thoughtful and comprehensive diversity and inclusion effort with the goals of better representing the communities we serve — and hiring, nurturing and retaining a workforce that not only looks like America but feels respected and appreciated for the hard work they do every day.”
HRC provided BuzzFeed News with a list of 18 steps it says it already has taken to improve the working environment at the organization since it received the Pipeline Report and 3 additional steps that are “in the works.”
“As we fully anticipated, the report flagged problem areas that the organization has already begun to tackle aggressively,” Griffin said in his statement. “We’ll continue to address them, one by one, as any serious organization recognizing these challenges would.”
The report informed HRC leadership that staff are critical of an “exclusionary environment” at the advocacy group — where 1 in 5 staff believe “diversity and inclusion” is not a necessary part of the group’s work and values.
To that end, the report stated, “There is a general perception that current diversity efforts are not working and that there’s a lack of diversity understanding broadly.” A participant in a focus group noted, “A lot of folks are personally invested in diversity inclusion but their voices have been smothered or pushed away.”
At the same time, the report also noted that employees were eager to participate in the Pipeline Project’s process because they believe in the organization’s aims and wanted to help it succeed. “There is a high level of commitment among HRC’s staff to the point that almost three-quarters would recommend the organization to a friend or colleague as a good place to work,” one portion summarizing the findings states.
Cuc Vu, who served as the chief diversity officer at HRC from 2007 through the beginning of 2014, left the organization before the start of the Pipeline Project’s review. Vu, who now works as the acting director of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in Seattle, did not respond to a request to talk with BuzzFeed News about HRC or this report.
Clarence Patton, the lead consultant on the project from the Pipeline Project, did not respond to request for comment on Tuesday, but HRC provided a statement from him in its response on Wednesday.
“It’s important to put the results of this report in context with other nonprofit and for-profit organizations. HRC is not at the top of the class but it’s just as important to add that there are and have been organizations in far worse shape,” Patton said in the statement. “For an organization of its size, complexity and programmatic diversity, none of the results surprised the Pipeline team. Moreover, we felt that all of our findings were addressable issues.”
Among those issues highlighted repeatedly in the more than 30 pages of Pipeline Project report documents obtained by BuzzFeed News was what one subsection of the reported called a “White Men’s Club” environment at HRC.
“One of the most frequent concerns that rose was the sense of an organizational culture rooted in a white, masculine orientation which is judgmental of all those who don’t fit that mold,” the report states in summarizing its survey findings. “Disparate treatment toward women and those with ‘soft skills’ was frequently cited by staff — both men and women — and there is a sense that if you operate outside of that orientation, you will not be successful at HRC.”
That perception is also borne out in the experience of minority employees, according to the report, summarizing survey responses at one point as follows: “More than half of multiracial and Latino people and 83% of genderqueer people feel they are not treated equally based on their identity.”
From the focus groups, the report details criticism from younger staff and female staff about their contributions not being valued. In a listing of comments made, one staffer said, “Younger staff in particular are exploited and not rewarded financially.” Another said, “Straight women and lesbians get sexist treatment from gay men at HRC.”
The report notes, “Seven out of 31 men who have been promoted have been on staff less than two years (some promoted two times). No women under two years have been promoted.”
In addressing the report, HRC told BuzzFeed News that the group has created employee resource groups for transgender and gender-expansive employees, people of color, women, bisexual employees, and remote employees. The group noted that each resource group “has an executive staff member who is a sponsor.”
Additionally, HRC has added “recruiting efforts to diverse audiences undertaken to reach prospective applicants” and updated job postings “to affirmatively communicate that diverse candidates are encouraged to apply.”
The environment for transgender staff was highlighted in the Pipeline Project report as a particularly problematic area. In the summary of findings, the consultants broke out the focus group discussions about the experience of trans staff at HRC “[d]ue to the depths of concerns.” Among those issues were findings that “[t]rans* people don’t feel safe to come out at HRC,” noting that some staff “work for years at HRC before coming out as trans.”
The report also notes that “[t]rans* people are frequently misgendered with the wrong pronouns, after repeated corrections.”
HRC noted that among the changes implemented since receiving the report are several aimed at improving the climate for transgender or genderqueer staff. The group states that it has updated the new staff orientation process, announcements for new staff, job descriptions, and dress code to reflect a commitment to respecting employees’ use of pronouns and using gender-neutral language where appropriate. HRC says it also surveyed employees about their pronoun use, applying those results to “organizational communications.”
The survey also showed a significant problem in the human resources department. Referencing a discussion raised throughout the documents, the consultants bluntly state, “No one trusts HR.”
The surveys showed that only one of 12 trans or genderqueer staffers agreed that “appropriate policies/procedures are in place or that HR has proper resources,” and the Pipeline Project also noted of HR, “They have poorly handled gender pronouns, name changes, email changes during transition.”
The concerns about human resources and training extended beyond trans employees to the full staff.
“More than half of staff believe HR is under-resourced when it comes to” diversity and inclusion, the report notes. Training from HR also was highlighted as being insufficient. In one particularly glaring finding, the report notes that “67% of supervisors don’t think HR provides adequate training for managers.”
According to HRC, since receiving the report, the group has restructured the Human Resources Department, including “a new staff and a heightened focus on diversity competencies.”
Regarding transgender issues specifically, the group says it has “updated the staff new-hire form to include gender identity and expression; added categories to allow staff to self-identify; [and] implemented data collection language based on Williams Institute recommendations for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.” It also says it has implemented a new policy for transitioning employees.
Beyond the specific issues, the report also highlighted a concern within the organization that raising concerns — such as those highlighted throughout the report — will result in retaliation. In summarizing the survey findings, the report states, “There is a general sense of feeling excluded from decision-making and a distrust or fear that if one brings up concerns, their sphere of influence becomes limited.”
To that end, one person commented in a focus group that people feel that “®aising concerns is not your job and focus on your tasks. Concerns are to be tasked by people who are more experienced, less radical, more conservative, more mainstream.”
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