VPIRG takes seriously the concerns raised by a former canvasser who made an anonymous post recently on social media, and we deeply regret any sense of harm they may have experienced while working as a canvasser. In addition to the specific accusations about a director in the office, the post included complaints about the culture of VPIRG’s canvass in 2017.
While we never received a complaint before about the director, we did listen to concerns about the office. We took these concerns to heart and have been working to make appropriate improvements.
For instance, in August 2017 we formed a canvass-specific team to address the concerns and recommend changes. We also established an organization-wide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiative to intentionally understand and plan to improve VPIRG’s practices in light of staff feedback, the “Me Too” movement, the increasingly overt acts of racism and violence witnessed in Charlottesville, and so much more.
Our canvass personnel policies were updated in 2018 (and are updated each spring based on employee feedback) to evaluate the ways in which employees who identify as women, trans or genderqueer, people of color, LGBTQIA or a member of a marginalized community can be best protected and supported during their work with VPIRG. We expanded our non-discrimination and harassment policies, added clearer protocols for reporting and handling situations where discrimination or harassment have been experienced or witnessed, and developed the approach to discipline and conflict resolution we seek to establish. We also evaluated our management training, structures, operations, training curriculum and procedures through that same lens.
Here are a few specific policies that have been implemented and enforced since 2018:
Fraternization Policy: To protect staff, to ensure relationships are and remain consensual, and to ensure that being in a relationship with a coworker does not negatively impact job performance or the work environment for colleagues, VPIRG established a Fraternization Policy that states:
- As supervisors, Canvass Directors are prohibited from any inappropriate touching, flirting, sexual relationships or any otherwise sexualized behavior with subordinate employees.
- If any two staff members are in a relationship when beginning employment or start a relationship with another non-directing member of staff, they are asked to notify the HR administrator in the office. Steps are taken to ensure that the relationship does not interfere with work and remains consensual.
Added an independent, non-Director Human Resources employee: To ensure all staff can be held accountable and provided critical feedback, regardless of their position on the management hierarchy, we created a new position in the canvass office: “Office and Human Resources Administrator” (OHRA). The OHRA provides all employees with a ‘safe’ dedicated staff member, who is not their direct supervisor, available to discuss any issues that arise. They assist the Associate Director in ensuring confidentiality and non-retaliation of any investigation of incidents that may involve harassment or discrimination.
Incident Reporting: We established a much more robust Incident Reporting system, administered by the OHRA to ensure that any situation that arises while canvassing, or with coworker in or out of the office, is promptly and confidentially followed up on. We also established a confidential, victim-centered investigation process for any incident that may involve harassment or discrimination.
Equity in Leadership: To address the potential male-dominated leadership or culture, actions include:
- Striving for gender balance in promotions to Field Manager and Canvass Directors.
- Conducting diversity, equity and inclusion training with all directing staff, with particular emphasis on gender, power, and privilege, and convening all canvass staff briefing/discussion on the same topic.
- Adding a specific HR training to required training series that includes discussion of group agreements, staff policies, and consent.
We share these VPIRG canvass changes now, not to say we are perfect, but to demonstrate that we have recognized a need to do better and have taken specific steps to do so. Each year we strive to improve the practices of the canvass and VPIRG more broadly. We will take this opportunity to evaluate what more we can do to prevent harm and ensure a workplace centered on safety, teamwork, equity, mission, and personal and professional growth.
Finally, to be clear, no complaint was made to us about the director named in the post that summer, or at any time since. If it had been made while the Director was employed at VPIRG, we would have investigated. If an investigation is initiated now by an independent entity with authority, we encourage current and former VPIRG staff with pertinent information to share what they know while maintaining appropriate confidentiality toward all parties involved.
Contact: Liz Edsell, VPIRG Associate Director, 802-595-2447