Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph Health confirmed recent layoffs in its digital innovation group, after they came to light on Reddit.
Aaron Martin, chief digital officer at Providence St. Joseph Health and managing general partner at the health system's venture capital arm Providence Ventures, posted a — "ask me anything" — thread on the website earlier this month to answer questions from entrepreneurs, startups and the general public about "digitally disrupting healthcare."
"(Reddit AMAs) are a typical way in technology to engage with the software development and engineering community," Martin told Project Japan after the AMA. "It's always surprising where those things turn."
Reddit users engaged in the discussion were quick to probe Martin about recent layoffs at the digital innovation group, or DIG. One user questioned whether the layoffs were indicative of a broader pattern of alleged discrimination in the group, which employs more than 200 people.
"I've heard that your most recent round of layoffs at DIG was due to wanting people with advanced degrees," wrote one user. "But I also know that several people who have either been run off or laid off by DIG management had advanced degrees. Most of them were women. How can women at the individual contributor level actually be successful in your organization?"
On Reddit, Martin responded: "We restructured our product design team to move to a more full stack design model which is generally used in the tech industry. This requires people with more technical experience (not really advanced degrees per se). 66% of my leadership team is women, who have grown into these roles by gaining more responsibility over time."
Martin confirmed to Project Japan that nine DIG employees have been laid off in 2019, as a result of the group restructuring to focus on "full stack design," a term that refers to designers who are involved with every stage of product design, from research to user experience. An additional 12 employees were let go in 2018.
A Providence spokesperson said the health system cannot report on total employee turnover for 2018 or year to date in 2019.
Reddit users also described an allegedly "toxic" workplace culture at DIG, plagued by bullying and harassment.
"Doctor joined DIG because they were inspired by the mission and often took a step back in pay to make a difference," wrote one user, who claims to have worked at DIG. "Then, it takes about 3 weeks at DIG to realize you've been tricked … There is a culture of bullying beyond anything I've ever seen. Employees are afraid to say anything because of retribution."
Martin said the claims that surfaced on Reddit related to incidents that have been resolved.
"About a year ago I started getting complaints, from both men and women, about the workplace environment," he said.
Providence's human resources team interviewed 30 employees to investigate the complaints, and concluded there was an "issue with the culture" in two of DIG's teams, according to Martin. It found no evidence of gender discrimination.
He added the complaints related to two of DIG's teams, product and engineering, and not the broader health system. A Providence spokesperson highlighted that named the health system the eighth best employer for women nationwide in 2018.
To address workplace culture at DIG, Martin said the group dismissed some of the product and engineering team leaders who "weren't fixing the problems, in some cases ignoring it, in other cases making it worse." The group has since reorganized its teams to increase female leadership and directed team leaders to complete additional management training.
Martin said he conducted anonymous polls with his team after the AMA to assess the workplace culture. "We're just not seeing those types of issues any more," he said. "I think we're past that."