To the Board of Directors of New York Road Runners, Inc.:
We, current and former employees, are writing anonymously out of fear of retaliation to express our profound concern with the trajectory New York Road Runners is heading under the current leadership of Michael Capiraso, President and CEO.
We are seeing an erosion of the very values we thought NYRR was built on. These values are replaced with a toxic, discriminatory, and racist work culture that Mr. Capiraso continues to foster. Moreover these practices continue to go unacknowledged while there is an increasingly for-profit and performative focus on diversity that threatens our wellbeing, our work, our service, and our standing with the New York City running community.
We are bringing our concerns to you as a last resort, as we have had no success addressing them to senior management and Human Resources. Specifically, we have been alarmed by the following:
Financial Mismanagement and Suspected Malfeasance
There has been a high proportion of staff layoffs/furloughs even with publicly known assets which includes securing a PPP loan and insurance from cancelled events. There have also been sizable donations NYRR has made during this time. In addition, Mr. Capiraso’s base annual salary ($514,846 in 2018) is over two times higher than the NYC Median for nonprofit CEOs ($223,049 in 2020 according to salary.com). Millions have been spent on youth programs, incentives, partnerships (city and other organizations), acquisitions (Billion Mile Race), and consulting fees with no demonstrated impact.
There are also concerns with suspected unethical TFK fundraising as there is very little transparency and accountability to donors on use of their funds, beyond what is legally required. As a part of organizational donor stewardship, it is communicated to donors that funds are raised for youth programs when in reality funds are being used to cover all community program spending at year end to avoid deficits. An assessment of TFK allocations will show how this money is spent and we must ensure that’s what’s being communicated to donors. It’s not our place to determine if actions were illegal, but these gaps in donor stewardship and the distribution of revenue paired with the vast disproportion in pay clearly shows how personnel are undervalued and that there is a need to investigate further.
Racism and Other Forms of Discrimination
There is a clear culture of White dominance ingrained throughout organizational practices. This is illustrated in documented staff accounts, sentiments of anti-Blackness, and other microaggressive experiences of BIPOC staff. We have observed disparities in pay, hiring, and promotions based on race in addition to disparities in HR protection, when BIPOC staff file a complaint against White staff. In addition to practices that cultivate racism there have also been staff accounts of other forms of discrimination based on sex (including sexual harrasment and workplace violence against women) and body type. It’s paramount to note and understand that we are a diverse staff with multiple identities and have had multiple experiences of discrimination to our detriment.
We call on you to take the time to read these Staff Stories.
Performative Diversity, Marginalizing BIPOC Staff, and Hindrance of DEI
NYRR has only recently decided to condemn systematic racism through broad, public-facing gestures but is enabling its effects in our own workplace. There is a reactive and performative presence on social channels, but a workplace culture that enables silence and blatantly perpetuates erasure of staff concerns. When staff are reporting racist or discriminatory experiences, when they ask questions about problematic partnerships that threaten Black lives, and when they are courageously sharing concerns in all-staff meetings, they are being dismissed or told that they are “off-base”. It is clearly visible that BIPOC staff are being marginalized in the way our concerns are addressed. A DEI agenda will continue to fail until leaders create spaces where every individual can contribute to establishing a new culture, it is clear that Mr. Capiraso cannot create this space.
Youth and Community Program Mismanagement
The RNYRR program was designed to be smoke and mirrors to exaggerate the volume of youth being served without measurable impact. Since this program launched millions have been spent buying and shipping incentives to over 200,000 students for milestones many did not achieve. RNYRR activities are housed in the PLAYbuilder database which has close to 600 unique users (program leads). The Strides participant data tracking system (a separate, non-integrated system) is used to log sessions by program leads. With over 1,300 enrolled teachers and program leads logging sessions, there is a clear discrepancy in PLAYbuilder and Strides usage. This is because youth program staff have been told to inform teachers and program leads they can log their existing PE classes to earn incentives. NYRR is essentially incentivizing youth who show up to their PE class. In addition, the organization has spent millions of dollars for the work of an external consulting agency’s work, while there is still no demonstrable way to measure Physical Literacy and its connection to any of our programs.
While the other community programs have demonstrated an improvement in recent years, they still lack the directional leadership and resources they need to show sustainable growth and measurable impact because of the focus on RNYRR. Mr. Capiraso assigned senior leaders to the community team who were inexperienced in working directly with NYC communities and who had no discernment of their cultural and socio-economic realities. Community service continues to suffer because of the unrealistic growth expectations without the financial commitment.
Additionally, Mr. Capiraso authorizes exorbitant amounts of money to develop and maintain IT infrastructure through external vendors for our programs and events even though they don’t produce optimal user experience. He also commissions high cost external marketing campaigns with vendors that don’t have the expertise in youth and community program work. A full independent financial and programmatic audit from Fiscal Years 2016-2020 needs to take place.
Toxic Work Culture Perpetuated by Leadership
Staff have witnessed and continue to experience toxicity in the workplace in the form of unrealistic deadlines and expectations which cause employees to work long hours and weekends. When staff are vocal about organizational decisions that impact their wellbeing, they are continually met with unilateral decision making.
There have also been staff accounts of verbal assaults and other forms of abuse of power by those in leadership positions. More recently, leadership hired a new senior director position during the communicated “hiring freeze”. The position was not posted externally and was intentionally shared with staff after the hiring. When these issues are brought to HR there is little transparency around resolution. With the current whistleblower policy, there is no definitive understanding of what constitutes a fireable offense and how these complaints are filed and tracked. Staff have also noted that confidential information provided to the HR team has been shared at social functions. The HR department has proven itself not to be a resource for employees and a place where it’s not safe to share concerns, which has perpetuated a culture of fear and retaliation.
NYRR cannot simultaneously be a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the New York City running and youth community and be a profit & productivity driven enterprise premised on corporate models and discriminatory practices.
We have been inspired by a national movement and as a community based running organization, it is our moral imperative to create a new narrative for running. A narrative that first recognizes the sports’ roots in racialized experiences for the Black community and then chooses to move in a direction that will truly make it an inclusive sport. Sport is a vehicle for social change, commitment to racial equity is paramount to this change and this is a commitment we have not seen from Mr. Capiraso. We are attuned to the differences between performative statements and real action and we are calling on you to take real action.
Based on our concerns we are demanding the following:
- Immediate removal of Michael Capiraso, president and CEO and Board member, as he fosters toxic, discriminatory, and systemically racist work culture at NYRR.
- Conduct an independent pay equity audit, communicate results, and take corrective action to remediate disparities.
- Analyze pay gaps around gender and race and ensure that equity has been built into current/future compensation structure, including contracts with athletes and brand ambassadors
- Corrective action should include capping bonuses of senior leaders to $25,000 so added compensation doesn’t exceed salary amounts of staff
- Include an analysis of promotions
- Restructure Human Resources and accompanying policies and procedures to foster an anti-racist and anti-discrimanatory workplace.
- Amend internal investigation policies to be transparent with formalized timelines, communicated resolutions, and extended protection to complainants
- Develop system to track, monitor, and analyze employee issues/investigations
- Commit to transparency on salary range and what determines pay for job posting (current policy is non-disclosure until offer is made)
- Hire HR specialists in people management, conflict resolution, cultural competency, and implementation of DEI work
- Compensate employees for leading ERGs (Employee Resource Groups)
- Communicate results from DEI audit, commit to sustained action by the new CEO, and integrate results through visible leadership and a willingness to address and rectify an organizational culture that promotes White dominance.
- Commit to DEI integration in all segments of business and program operations, not just workplace culture.
- Finalize hiring VP of DEI who will commit to integrating DEI into all operations including media and PR
- Commit to centering BIPOC communities we serve and involving people directly impacted into the planning, implementation, and evaluation of services, program, products and policies
- A new, external, President and CEO hired by a diverse search committee, in close cooperation with staff (representing all levels and all departments), with demonstrated leadership2 in community based non-profit work.
- Conduct an independent, external audit on youth and community programming and investigate possible financial malfeasance including program incentive structure.
- Develop a philanthropy strategy that centralizes fundraising under one umbrella and is reflective of all youth and community programs and supports NYRR as a running community organization.
- Board chairs commit to monthly all-staff check-ins until the new president and CEO is hired and commit to future staff check-ins (without SLT’s).
- Hire an independent interim CEO to lead the organization until a permanent and external president and CEO is hired.
We call on you to consider these demands and take action to protect the integrity of the important work that we do and the communities that we serve. We are calling on you to provide a public response, as acknowledgement of these demands, within 72 hours.
Concerned Current and Former NYRR Staff