User talk:Katherine (WMF)
Question regarding the Chief of StaffEdit
I am writing to address a question that was raised by a member of the Wikimedia community regarding the hiring of Ryan Merkley as Chief of Staff at the Foundation.
From 2014 until September 2019, Ryan was CEO at Creative Commons. In 2014, he received a complaint from a staff member concerning an incident that had occurred in 2013, predating his leadership of the organization. The report alleged that the staff member had been subject to verbal harassment by their manager.
The question concerns Ryan’s handling of the complaint. Although we are seldom able to discuss personnel matters, Creative Commons’ own public audit of the complaint makes this a unique circumstance. And as it addresses harassment, an important issue within our own movement, I appreciate the chance to address this directly.
First, I want to be explicit that I don’t stand for harassment in our movement, or in Wikimedia workplaces. I’ve experienced workplace harassment myself, and I didn’t have the power and voice at the time to make it stop. Now that I have the power and positionality to draw the line in the sand, I do.
Fortunately, it isn’t a line I draw alone. The Wikimedia Foundation has robust anti-harassment policies for anyone participating in Wikimedia spaces and working with the Foundation as a staff or contractors. Any complaint of harassment involving a staff member or contractor will be thoroughly investigated by our human resources and legal teams, sometimes with the support of independent external legal counsel. The findings of those investigations are taken seriously, and our human resources team is fully empowered to take swift, appropriate action. Complaints of harassment by and between volunteers are evaluated by our trust and safety and legal teams and also acted on when appropriate
Second, I want to underline that the reported harassment at CC took place between two CC employees who reported to Ryan, and occurred prior to Ryan starting at CC. I am not aware of any claim that Ryan himself has engaged in harassing behavior.
The concerns raised characterized what happened at CC as a “systems failure.” Initially, I didn’t understand this characterization. At first glance, the systems all seemed to work — the initial complaint was investigated by CC’s HR and legal counsel and the staff member involved was sanctioned. The CC board later audited the investigation and concluded that the organization followed its policies correctly and took appropriate actions.
However, on reflection, I have come to agree that there was a failure, but that it wasn’t about any specific HR process or outcome. The systems failure was the existence of a culture in which harassment can occur.
In other words, it’s necessary, but not sufficient to respond to harassment. Rather, the culture and systems should preclude it from happening in the first place. Protecting people from harassment requires well-crafted systems. Systems that are not explicitly and actively anti-harassment and pro-safety are systems that will ultimately fall short, with the potential for real harm to real people.
Well before Ryan and I ever started talking about working together, I was familiar with the complaint at CC. I often reach out to other EDs in the open movement to learn from their experiences. Ryan and I had discussed the complaint, talking at length about the difference between recourse and redress -- that is, the actions you can take in response to a problem, versus the ability to “set right” the problem. It is possible to have policies that facilitate action, but don’t necessarily facilitate justice. Ryan has written about how CC handled the situation, what they learned, and the subsequent improvements CC made to their internal own systems, including their policies and anti-harassment training.
When hiring someone into a senior position at the Foundation, we call references, ask hard and direct questions, and do background research. As part of Ryan’s hiring process, the human resources and legal team further reviewed available documentation about the complaint at CC. This included the findings of the Creative Commons independent Audit Committee, which found that CC “acted appropriately and adhered to its policies” and that there was “no violation of the code of conduct,” We also spoke with former employees (independent of the formal reference check process), and current and former CC board members to ensure that we had a well-rounded assessment of the situation.
Those inquiries guided our conclusion that Ryan had not only handled the complaint appropriately, but that he also took significant and ongoing action to improve the workplace culture, practices, and policies of the organization. Our conclusion was that his personal commitment to addressing these systemic issues is serious and sustained. It is particularly because of this commitment that Ryan was the right choice for this role.
I would never knowingly hire someone with a history of harassment, or tolerate such behavior. You have my commitment that any report of harassment or otherwise problematic behavior will be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. The Foundation will not hesitate to take appropriate action, including termination of employment.
Harassment has no place in Wikimedia. Not on our sites, not in our community, not on staff.