DIVA: Time For A Statement

Following on from my blog posts here, here and here, there has been a further development and it is not positive: Jane Czyzselska, the editor of DIVA, has sent wholly unsatisfactory emails to Simone Webb and Robert Halfon MP.  This correspondence has made the situation worse, not better. I recap and explain below.

In January this year, 17 year old Simone Webb applied for an advertised position of an unpaid internship with DIVA magazine. Jane Czyzselska, the editor of the magazine, offered her a one month internship commencing on July 1. Simone accepted the offer with gratitude and added that she would “be in touch nearer the time to clarify dates, etc.” There had been no discussion of expenses either in the original advertisement or in any communication prior to the offer being made.

On May 30, Simone emailed the editor:  “In reference to my internship with DIVA in July (which I’d still love to do!) could I just ask whether my travel expenses will be paid? Otherwise I might have some issues with travel.”  The response was “We occasionally pay these, budget  permitting – how much will they be?” Simone responded that she believed that the costs of travel via London Underground would be approximately £5 a day. There was no response to this email.  Simone sent the editor a further polite email as a reminder. It took until June 29, two days prior to the date at which she was due to commence the internship, for Simone to receive a response from Ms. Czyzselska. It would be bad enough if she had said that they could not pay a small travel cost for someone who had agreed to work for no pay, but she went further: she rescinded the offer of the internship in the following way:

I feel uncomfortable offering you an internship when you are so young and without an independent budget of your own.

Given this email, Simone utilised her blog to comment on the matter. Last Monday I stumbled across this blog post. I had no idea who Simone was beyond how she described herself on her blog. I was so annoyed by the facts that she had presented that I contacted her for more information. This led to my first blog post on the matter where I accused DIVA of discriminating against poor people.   While I am aware that this blog does have some readers in Westminster, I was unaware, but delighted, that the Conservative MP Robert Halfon is an avid reader. Not only did he read my post, he also knew Simone Webb. Like me, he was appalled by her treatment by the magazine. He proposed an Early Day Motion to the House of Commons on Tuesday and brought up the matter in parliament as a question on Thursday.

Ms. Czyzselska was not happy and she sent accusatory emails to both Simone and to Robert Halfon containing similar information. The email to Simone has been copied in its entirety to this blog post.

In this email, Ms. Czyzselska has declared that Robert Halfon is the “Conservative party ally” of Simone. In fact, she did not even get his name right as she called him “David Halfon.” Not only is this ridiculous, Ms. Czyzselska knows that it is so. The reason I can say that with confidence is that when Simone applied for the internship, she made her own political views known. An example of her writing that she submitted with her initial application was one from a blog associated with supporters of the Labour Party, Labour Uncut.  The truth is, as Robert Halfon has informed me, Simone campaigned against Robert Halfon in the last General Election.  He can hardly be described as an ally. It is an aside, but very much to the credit of Mr. Halfon, that he has taken the trouble to highlight the matter of a known political opponent.

Ms. Czyzselska tries to explain that the magazine genuinely could not afford to pay £100 for a month of travel expenses to Simone.  The financial position of DIVA is a red herring, because that is not what the complaint is about. Even if it were true that £100 was an amount beyond the means of the magazine, it is no excuse for Ms. Czyzselska’s original email to Simone where she withdrew the offer of internship. What she could have done is simply inform Simone that travel expenses could not be paid but left the internship open to her if she could finance them herself.  But this is not what she did: Ms. Czyzselska simply withdrew the offer of the internship. To repeat, as it is important, this was how the offer was withdrawn:

I feel uncomfortable offering you an internship when you are so young and without an independent budget of your own.

As Simone has commented, the excuse about age can be dismissed out of hand: the magazine has had at least two other interns younger than herself.  We are therefore left with the reason for the rescinding of the offer was Simone’s financial position not the magazine’s financial position. This is what the complaint has been about and this is evidenced by the Early Day Motion which calls for DIVA “to drop its discriminatory policy of refusing to employ people who lack ‘an independent budget’” In neither the email to Simone nor to the email to Robert Halfon, a copy of which I have seen, does Ms. Czyzselska provide any explanation for the rescinding of the offer or the reasons it did so.

In her email, as a diversion from the issue at hand, Ms. Czyzselska explains how well they treat their interns and as evidence of this provides a gushing quote from a young woman who had completed a five day internship with the magazine. Not only is this irrelevant, it is also pathetic. It is hardly likely that a sixteen year old who has been asked for a quote by a company which had given her an internship would provide a bad quote, particularly if she needed a good reference.

In her email to Robert Halfon, Ms. Czyzselska accuses him of being “partisan and hostile” and of “attempting to defame and discredit DIVA … without foundation.”  Ms. Czyzselska should be embarrassed that she has made such a comment. Both in the EDM and in his comments in parliament, Robert Halfon simply quoted Ms. Czyzselska’s words. He also asked for “an urgent debate on social mobility to ensure that work experience and internships are available to the many, not the few.”  If DIVA has been defamed, Ms. Czyzselska has only herself to blame.

Both Simone Webb and Robert Halfon have behaved entirely properly throughout this affair. The person who has behaved badly is Jane Czyzselska. There has been further inappropriate behaviour by Kim Watson, the Managing Director of Media and Marketing for Millivres Prowler, the company behind DIVA.  It seems to me very unprofessional for someone in her position to send messages to Simone Web via Twitter falsely accusing her of “misrepresenting a small independent lesbian magazine for … self publicity.”

The editor’s bizarre behaviour in offering an unpaid internship and then rescinding the offer – justifying her decision with an explicit policy of discrimination on the basis of age and poverty – should be explained. It is time that the company put out a formal statement commenting on its actions without sidestepping the fact that they withdrew an offer of an internship to Simone Webb because she was not of independent means.