Walk the walk, progressive organizations: The Progressive Accountability Project

When powerhouse PR firm FitzGibbon Media recently imploded amid revelations of its founder & owner’s unacceptable workplace conduct, the scandal rocked the progressive movement. How could it happen within this community that so values gender equality and respect for women? By Trevor FitzGibbon, who so vocally advocated for numerous progressive causes?

But the reality is that what happened with FitzGibbon Media isn’t all that unusual. One by one, women throughout the movement came forward with their own stories of sexual harassment and misogyny at workplaces with a progressive mission. So did others with their experiences being subjected to racial discrimination, homophobia, relegation to second-class “temporary contractor” status with no benefits, and other humiliations, indignities, and bias at self-professed progressive organizations.

Such a clash between self-professed progressive values and actual practice in reality is jarring and troubling for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, even the most outwardly progressive of employers can be faulted for not walking the walk with their own employees. But part of the problem is the social taboo against openly discussing and confronting these issues while naming names—especially given the fear of professional retaliation and career blackballing. Individuals subjected to these abuses often have much to lose by speaking out—their livelihoods, professional reputation, relationships—which is exactly one of the sources of power shielding the abusers from accountability.

As part of the community’s broader response, Erica Payne at the Agenda Project proposes a “Progressive Accountability Project”: an independent audit of the top 100 progressive organizations on everything from diversity to paid leave policies—and of course, sexual harassment. All the political party committees should be audited for their workplace policies as well.

The kind of transformational reform warranted will take more than sunshine, but bringing data out into the open and equipping stakeholders with resources are critical first steps. The nation’s largest progressive employers should be called upon to help lead this effort and model the best workplace policies. Given the influence of philanthropic donors and grantmakers on nonprofits, major funding entities and networks like the Democracy Alliance should be roped into into aiding the initiative as well.