“As a woman, I feel excluded every day,” says an employee of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization, in an internal diversity report released Wednesday.
The report was compiled by The Pipeline Project, and commissioned by HRC through focus groups and surveys with employees of the company. The report revealed that the organizational structure of HRC perpetuates sexism, while leaders have failed to establish a “real push for diversity,” which has created a “homogenous” leadership culture that is “gay, white, male.”
BuzzFeed News legal editor Chris Geidner first broke the story, revealing "major diversity problems" within the organization. Geidner noted that the report included complaints from many staffers that the work environment at HRC is “extremely judgmental,” especially of women and female-identified people. The workers surveyed called their employer a “White Men’s Club” that only promotes the “good old boys.”
The report sharply critiqued HRC's inconsistent support, perceived exclusion, and organizational structure that is not inclusive, culminating in and lack of commitment to diversity and inclusion. HRC President Chad Griffin acknowledged the findings of the report, and issued a 20-point plan to address the issues (more on that below).
A third of all staff in the report called HRC's working environment is “exclusionary.” More than half of multiracial and Latino people, and 83 percent of genderqueer people working at HRC said they feel they are not treated equally based on their identity.
These are the five findings that struck us most as we combed through the HRC report:
1. Trans staff “frequently feel tokenized.”
Trans and genderqueer staffers reported being misgendered often, “even after repeated attempts to educate.” They also raised concerns that they do not feel safe to come out at HRC, noting there there is only one gender-neutral bathroom available, and that the company dress code lists only "male" and "female" attire options, leaving genderqueer or nonbinary staffers without guidance. One employee was offended when they heard coworkers using the phrase "tranny."
2. Straight women and lesbians experience sexist treatment from gay men.
Employees surveyed reported experiencing "femophobia," where "feminine men and women are not considered as important [as more masculine staffers]." Another survey respondent claimed to have witnessed "visible misogyny," which the staffer described as "cutting women off, [and] only addressing other white men." The report notes that complaints about sexism and a "good old boy's club" were cited 32 times in open-ended answers.
3. Leadership culture is homogenous — gay, white, and male.
White gay men have all the power in the top roles, according to the report. "I think the stereotype as the 'white gay man's club' is accurate," said one staffer. Another employee recounted that at a major meeting with six or seven senior staffers, all the attendees were "high-functioning, white, funny males. They are pinging off each other. There were no women." Lesbians are also underrepresented in leadership, the report found.
4. The HR department — and promotion decisions — are ruled by "favoritism."
There is a lack of communication between HRC's human resources department and rank-and-file employees at the company, according to the report. It is a "mystery" how people are appointed to higher positions, because "there is no clear path" to promotion. Employees bluntly stated that "HR does not work," and it's an "open secret."
5. There is no "real push" for diversity.
At an organization that claims to represent more than 1.5 million members, people of color, transgender staffers, and employees from a lower socioeconomic group claimed they faced institutionalized discrimination that played a part in their salary. Employees at the company claim that "a lot of folks are personally invested in diversity inclusion, but their voices have been smothered or pushed away."
The report reveals an understanding that the way to succeed and advance in the company is to be a "young white gay male, who socializes with staff and especially senior staff." Doing so ensures "there is a greater likelihood that you will advance sooner," claimed one respondent. Another employee quoted in the report said they were discouraged from speaking up about such issues, because "raising concerns is not your job ... Concerns are to be tasked by people who are more experienced, less radical, more conservative, more mainstream."
HRC "strives to end discrimination against LGBT people and realize a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all," according to the organization's website. Employees spoke earnestly of the irony highlighted by the issues the report uncovered, noting that, "We are supposed to be fighting for people who are being discriminated against and marginalized, however we at HRC are discriminating against people and marginalizing people in the workplace."
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, HRC president Chad Griffin addressed The Pipeline Project's report, which has yet to be shared with internal staff at the company. He said:
“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.”
The organization also provided BuzzFeed News with a list of 18 steps it says have already been taken to improve the working environment. One of those steps includes the restructuring of the company's HR department, with a new heightened focus on diversity.