How the Power Shift project is helping news organizations learn how to promote workplace integrity


The Power Shift Project, which came out of an early 2018 project held at the Newseum called the Power Shift Summit, is helping news organizations learn how to promote workplace integrity.

We caught up with Jill Geisler, the Bill Plante Chair in Leadership and Media Integrity at Loyola University Chicago, who is helping guide the Power Shift Project as the newly appointed Freedom Forum Institute Fellow in Women’s Leadership.

Tell us a little about what the Power Shift project is all about?

Think back to the fall of 2017. The Harvey Weinstein story broke, and led to a cascade of important reporting on sexual misconduct in news organizations. The #MeToo moment opened the door to revelations about well-known media figures: Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Halperin, Roger Ailes, Matt Lauer, Mike Oreskes, Garrison Keillor.

It became clear that this was more than individual high-profile men behaving badly, it was about systems and cultures that for years had shielded wrongdoing and silenced accusers.

At the Freedom Forum Institute, the CEO, Jan Neuharth, gave her team a charge: Let’s step forward in the search for solutions.

They reached out to me to help them convene key individuals in the eye of the storm: media leaders, victims, journalism organizations, educators, the EEOC, the National Women’s Law Center. We gathered on January 9, 2018, We called it the Power Shift Summit, reflecting the power that was moving in the direction of people who had traditionally lacked it. The Summit was live streamed from the Newseum – in a format that encouraged every one of the 130 individuals in the room to speak out about experiences, causes and solutions. The emotion in that room was palpable; anger, shame, resolve to fight for change.

The final report from the Summit revealed some key insights: 

  • Media organizations failed to support their most vulnerable employees while protecting the most powerful.
  • Organizations mistakenly focused on what was legal or illegal; not what was abusive and unjust.
  • Harassment and discrimination are inextricably linked.
  • Incivility and bullying are gateways to harassment and discrimination.
  • Systems for preventing and reporting misconduct are ineffective and often not trusted by staff.
  • Change requires addressing cultures and the underrepresentation of women and people of color in media leadership.
  • Traditional anti-harassment and discrimination training must be upgraded and customized for media organizations.

In response to those serious concerns, the Freedom Forum Institute created the Power Shift Project.

In June 2018, the Power Shift Project graduated the first class of trainers who are now equipped to deliver the “Workplace Integrity” training curriculum to news organizations.

What’s your role with it?

My formal title is Freedom Forum Institute Fellow in Women’s Leadership. They’ve entrusted me to create programs and curriculum that tackle all those challenges. But I have help. Within days of the Summit, we recruited a powerful, smart, diverse advisory board. My partner in leading the Power Shift Project is Freedom Forum Institute VP Cathy Trost, who has years of experience in journalism and First Amendment programming and partnerships and knows how to marshall the Institute’s resources wisely.

For example, the Summit revealed that despite the vulnerability of interns and entry-level employees, few universities or employers arm them with information on how to respond to workplace misconduct. So we immediately created a “Power to the Interns” program, with resources for interns, educators and employers.

Then we moved quickly to work on culture change. I created the “Workplace Integrity” curriculum for media organizations. It’s a 3-part workshop focused on Critical Thinking, Courageous Conversations and Cultures of Respect and Trust.

It’s delivered by graduates of our “Train-the-Trainer” workshops, who spend two days with me, doing a deep dive into the issues, understanding how to teach with respect for all the wisdom and experience people bring into the room, and how to make the program interactive, practical and results-oriented.  

For the record, Workplace Integrity is defined as:

Environments free of harassment, discrimination and incivility, but filled with opportunity, especially for those who have traditionally been denied it.

Now here’s the best news: In 2019, qualified media leaders can now participate in Workplace Integrity “Train-the-Trainers” workshops free of charge, with a travel subsidy.

That’s because CBS, in the wake of its Leslie Moonves scandal, pledged millions of dollars in a fund to fight harassment and discrimination. The Power Shift’s Workplace Integrity workshops so impressed the fund’s oversight team that we were awarded a CBS grant that now enables us to provide the Workplace Integrity training gratis, along with travel support for attendees.

That’s a great gift to media organizations with anemic training budgets in these challenging times for journalism.

Do you see companies finally making changes to how they promote workplace integrity on behalf of women?

I see hopeful signs and lots of work ahead. We just held the Power Shift Summit 2.0 at the Newseum, to check on what’s changed in the past year. It’s clear that many leaders had a true wake-up call. As moderator, I asked the 100 people in the room how many would say they’ve had new, serious conversations around harassment and discrimination at work. Hands went up everywhere. People told us about changes in anti-harassment training, lower tolerance for “brilliant jerks,” and intentional efforts to recruit, promote and retain women and people of color.

We heard organizations tell us they’re also focusing on safety and security in the field and online, where women and minorities are often viciously targeted. That’s an emerging conversation, with more horror stories than solutions right now.

We also heard that media organizations aren’t eager to be part of research efforts to get a much clearer picture of both the climate in media organizations and produce hard data on diversity – and that’s a stumbling block for accountability.

What are some of the themes that are coming out of the conversations that you all are having?

It’s clear that traditions and assumptions in organizations run deep. What does “paying your dues” or “a good fit for us” really mean when it comes to hiring or promotion?  How much bias (overt or unconscious) is built into those definitions and how does that harm women and minorities?

How do we move organizations from a “compliance” approach (follow the law so we don’t get sued) to an “integrity” approach (match our daily behaviors to our strong values) when it comes to equity in the workplace?

How do we determine whether the absence of complaints means all is well or people are afraid to speak up, other than in a whisper network?

And how in the world do we create or sustain the best workplace cultures at the same time the news industry throws off 1,000 jobs in week?

What are news organizations doing once they leave a Power Shift session; meaning how are they taking it out to their news organizations?

Some have rolled out training right away: Jean Hodges of GateHouse Media, Susan Ramsett of Gray Communications,Dave Elliott of Schurz Communications. Others are working through their HR departments and leadership teams to strategically schedule sessions. Journalism organizations like PRNDI (public radio news directors) and the NLGJA (the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Journalists) have sent representatives to be trained as trainers so they can bring the curriculum into the outreach work they do. Journalism educators who’ve become trainers are weaving it into J-school curriculum.

One of my favorite personal anecdotes: I moderated a televised gubernatorial debate for the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association last fall. When I arrived at the host station in Madison, the general manager greeted me with, “I took your Workplace Integrity training with Sue Ramsett!” He told me it was eye-opening for him and helps him as a person and as media leader.

How do more organizations learn more or get involved in the effort?

We have four more Train-the-Trainer workshops across the country this year.

  • March 26-27 at the Newseum
    Application deadline: March 18
  • June 12-13 at the Newseum
  • August 15-16 at Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, CA.) in partnership with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
  • Oct. 16-17 at Loyola University Chicago in partnership with the School of Communication

Take part, learn how to teach the curriculum and go back home with a complete turnkey kit to deliver it. Or if having an in-house trainer doesn’t work for you, reach out for one of our Go-Team trainers.

We’re going to produce more Power Shift programs this year on specific topics and I’ll be creating new short-form trainings for workplaces, teams and conferences. Our advisory board is meeting in March with representatives of the major journalism organizations that advocate for women and minorities, so that our work is complementary and well informed.

We’re also blessed to have good friends like ASNE and RTDNA that help spread the word about our programs and projects as they roll out. The good will behind this industry-wide effort is truly something to celebrate. We all know that stronger workplaces create stronger journalism – and that benefits democracy.