Digital media company Vice has admitted to a “boy’s club” culture that failed to protect women staff from harassment.
Co-founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi said in a statement that the company had taken action over “multiple instances of unacceptable behavior”.
The statement came in response to an in-depth New York Times investigation.
Vice began life as a free magazine with a reputation for edgy coverage of youth culture, but has since been backed by major corporations including Fox.
But Mr Smith and Mr Alvi acknowledged in their statement that the company’s roots had contributed to unprofessional conduct that persisted though its rapid growth.
They said: “Cultural elements from our past, dysfunction and mismanagement were allowed to flourish unchecked. That includes a detrimental “boy’s club” culture that fostered inappropriate behavior that permeated throughout the company.”
More than two dozen women told the New York Times they had “experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct,” including unwanted kisses, lewd remarks, propositions and groping.
“There is a toxic environment,” said Sandra Miller, a former Vice executive, “where men can say the most disgusting things and… where women are treated far inferior than men.”
The revelations make Vice the latest in a long list of companies and public bodies, including Ford car company and the US Congress, to face sexual harassment allegations against members and staff, triggered by revelations about the film producer Harvey Weinstein.
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The New York Times report on Vice outlines four settlements reached by the company with staff who alleged sexual harassment or defamation. One involved a 2003 interview by a freelance journalist, Jessica Hopper, with the rapper Murs, in which Ms Hopper wrote that the rapper propositioned her for sex and she said no.
Before her article was published however, the magazine changed her response to “Yes” and printed it. According to records seen by the Times, Vice reached a settlement with Ms Hopper and printed a retraction.
The company statement outlined steps it had taken to reform its workplace culture, including the hiring of a new HR director, a commitment to pay equity, and an advisory board including feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
First published in Canada in 1994 and distributed for free in clothing shops, Vice expanded rapidly with investment from major corporations. The Walt Disney Company now owns an 18% stake in Vice Media.