Vox Media Drops Open Bar From Holiday Party Amid Sexual Harassment Fears

Employees will instead receive two drink tickets, the company said in an internal email sent out Thursday afternoon.

Amid the wave of recent sexual harassment allegations against a number of individuals at media companies, and after firing its own editorial director for sexual harassment last month, Vox Media announced to its staff on Thursday that it will not have an open bar at this year’s holiday party.

As explained in an invitation sent out to Vox Media’s New York staff members Thursday afternoon, the reason for the change is to help curb any potential “unprofessional behavior.”

Here’s the email:

Hello all,

We invite you and a guest to join us at Vox Media’s holiday party on December 12 at Freehold. Details are in the invite - please click to RSVP by Wednesday, December 6th.

A note on alcohol at this event: This year, at the request of many of you, we will ramp up the food and cut down on the drinks. There will be more passed hors d’oeuvres to keep everyone well-fed. And instead of an open bar, each attendee will receive two drink tickets with which they can get alcoholic drinks if they choose. After that only non-alcoholic drinks will be available.

We recognize that even though alcohol isn’t always the reason for unprofessional behavior, creating an environment that encourages overconsumption certainly contributes to it. We hope that you all appreciate the spirit of this change and we look forward to celebrating with you!

Sincerely, The Experiential Team

The move keeps in line with an earlier memo that Vox CEO Jim Bankoff sent to staffers on Nov. 3, which listed a number of initiatives aimed at improving Vox’s work culture. Among other efforts, Bankoff wrote that the company would be considering “tighter policies around alcoholic beverages at company events and meetings and generally ensuring work events and interactions meet the highest standard of professionalism.” Judging by Vox’s email, it appears that those standards of professionalism can only be guaranteed up to two drinks. Vox Media did not return a request for comment at the time of publication.

Like many other companies, Vox Media has been directly affected by the wave of sexual harassment allegations this fall. Last month, the company fired editorial director Lockhart Steele after a former employee published a blog post on Medium that did not identify Vox Media by name. The employee said they had reported multiple incidents to other colleagues to little avail.

“I reported what had happened with the VP. A year later, I found out that an investigation had been done. That he had multiple victims within the company. That his punishment was being told he could not drink at corporate events any longer,” they wrote. ”He had too many shares in the company. There was nothing they could do.”

Vox Media also asked an outside law firm to investigate allegations of harassment within the company.

The number of companies serving any alcohol at holiday parties this year is poised to drop dramatically compared to 2016, from 62 percent to 49.7 percent, according to survey from Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, & Christmas.

As far as Vox’s other efforts are concerned, here’s more from the email sent to staffers earlier this month (emphasis ours):

I have asked Erin Bakst, who heads our People Operations group, to lead efforts to assemble and execute a plan that will evaluate, initiating and/or strengthening the following and other efforts:

  • Continued push for diversity and inclusion at all levels of the company

  • Continued iteration on our Code of Conduct as we listen to employees and learn from other organizations with values consistent with ours

  • Implementing and exploring initiatives to ensure that the Code of Conduct and company values become embedded into our culture and practices including, but not limited to:

    • Increased professional development training and resources for managers and employees

    • Increased resources and training for those recruiting and on-boarding new employees

    • Mandatory anti-harassment training for all employees

    • Mandatory Code of Conduct training for managers

  • Specific procedures around how to escalate complaints regarding Vox employees or others in our professional ecosystem (clients, partners, vendors, sources, etc.) when needed, while protecting those coming forward. Some of these are currently spelled out in our Code of Conduct and our Employee Handbook, but we will evaluate how we can make them more specific and train managers accordingly.

  • Increased training and development for our legal and people teams around best practices leading inquiries and investigations

  • Tighter policies around alcoholic beverages at company events and meetings and generally ensuring work events and interactions meet the highest standard of professionalism

  • Provide clarity to managers and employees regarding consensual relationships among co-workers

Vox Media consists of a number of prominent digital media brands including The Verge, Vox.com, SBNation, Eater, Racked, Curbed and Ezra Klein.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified Lockhart Steele’s title at Vox Media. He was editorial director. A previous version of this story also incorrectly stated that a former Vox Media employee reported harassment to the human relations department.

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