Parcast union employees call on Spotify management to honour diversity commitments

Of the $100,000 annual fund promised by Spotify in April 2022, only $5,000 has been approved for projects so far

Members of true-crime podcast network Parcast’s employee union have called on parent company Spotify’s management to clarify and follow through on its promise to support the network’s diversity, equality, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) goals. 

Spotify acquired Parcast in 2019 to expand its line of original podcast content, and as part of an agreement between the two organisations, an annual fund worth $100,000 was promised by Spotify to the Parcast’s DEIA committee in April 2022 to help fund more diversity and inclusion within recruitment, selection, retention, mentorship, advancement, and editorial coverage.

However, the union reported in a letter to the management on Thursday that as of February 2023, Spotify has only approved projects worth 5% of the budget - amounting to $5,000 - despite continued efforts from the union to propose new initiatives. Additionally, the union claimed it has received no responses to its repeated requests for Spotify to provide clear guidelines and rules that will help clarify the funding process. 

“While we understand there are business constraints to the company's ability to approve projects, we are beginning to worry that these denials are not in good faith,” the union said in the open letter. “We are seriously questioning this company’s commitment to funding this committee, and by extension, the values it represents.” 

As a result, the union workers under the Writers Guild of America East are asking Spotify’s executives to provide written guidelines in a document outlining which projects and initiatives can and can’t qualify for the fund, as well as a step-by-step guide on how to propose a project, get it approved, and how the money would then be distributed. 

Additionally, the union is calling for Spotify’s management to be more prompt with its contracted quarterly meetings with the union, demanding that it takes no more than two business days to schedule a meeting following a request from a union and that the meeting takes place no more than one week after it has been scheduled. The union has reported that in the past, it has taken a “full quarter” just to get a meeting in the calendar. 

Lastly, the union is asking for a better follow-up process after a project proposal is approved for funding, with HR responding with feedback and for the funding distribution process to take place no more than a week after the approval. The letter also requested that no more backchannel communication takes place and that instead, all relevant information on the projects should be shared with all committee members. 

“Clear, written guidelines, a predetermined process, and open communication will save time & help us achieve our shared goals efficiently, thus granting us all the bandwidth to perform our jobs and make Spotify a more inclusive and equitable place for both employees and consumers,” the union said. 

In a statement sent to PodPod by a Spotify spokesperson, the company stated that it has been having “active conversations” with Parcast’s DEIA committee regarding the fund and that it will continue to work towards allocating them for the right goals. 

“With Liliana Kim joining as the managing director of Parcast at the end of last year, it remains a priority to thoughtfully utilise the allocated fund in accordance with the committee’s goals,” the Spotify spokesperson said. “Parcast is committed to amplifying untold stories – like Bass Reeves: No Master But Duty that just recently launched."

In terms of the general treatment of employees in the audio sector, managing director of trade association AudioUK, Chloe Straw, said that it is “very important for audio production staff to feel valued”.

“As the trade association for audio production companies and a Living Wage employer, we recommend best practice to all our member companies when hiring staff and freelancers,” said Straw. “To this end we created safe working guidelines for audio production during the COVID-19 pandemic and also recently produced for our members a set of standard HR resources, plus discounted advice from the respected firm WeDoHR.”

The Twitter post by Parcast also led to numerous responses and uproar from the podcasting community, many of whom have expressed their support for the union and called out Spotify on its lack of effort to follow through with its DEIA commitments. 

“Companies like Spotify pay lip service to DEI, but when it actually comes time to step up and walk the walk, they show their true colors,” Insider reporter William Antonelli quote-tweeted. “Good on @ParcastUnion.”

Parcast Union, alongside union employees from Spotify’s other podcast network that it acquired - Gimlet Media - also previously called out the company in October 2022 when the company decided to lay off “at least” 38 of its employees across these studios and cancel 11 original podcasts. In a joint statement, the unions said that they were “blindsided” by this decision and blamed Spotify for the low performance that the shows received. 

“Their decision to make most of Gimlet’s and Parcast’s shows Spotify exclusive caused a steep drop in listeners – as high as three quarters of the audience for some shows,” the post said. “Yet the company did little or nothing to staunch the bleeding. Shows languished without marketing support, and teams were not given clear audience goals to meet.”

More recently, Parcast’s founder Matt Cutler, who has worked within Spotify’s senior team since he sold his network to the company in 2019, announced that he will be quitting his current position as head of talk creator content and partnerships in order to return to his “entrepreneurial roots” and work on a start-up project.