🚺 Visible Hands: Is the Future Female?
Whitney Wolfe Herd became the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire last week with the Bumble IPO. Let’s check in on the business of feminism.
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After last week’s Bumble IPO, Whitney Wolfe Herd became the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire and youngest female CEO ever to take a company public in the U.S. Business pundits heralded the shattering of the perennial glass ceiling. (Shh, don’t tell Kylie Jenner!) That’s promising news, but how are women really doing at work?
All the buzz: Bumble’s success feels like a story of righteous vindication. Whitney Wolfe Herd founded the woman-centered dating app company after suing Tinder, the company where she was an early employee (arguably a co-founder), for sexual harassment.
In its founding, Wolfe Herd teamed up with Andrey Andreev, a Russian entrepreneur. In its early days, Bumble and Badoo (a Russian social networking company founded by Andreev) were close collaborators, with Bumble leveraging its tech infrastructure and Wolfe Herd calling Andreev a mentor. Yet, in 2019, Forbes published an explosive article that outlined the misogynistic culture at Badoo under Andreev’s leadership: “Andreev wanted to hire only young, attractive women for marketing and administrative roles.”
Quite at odds with Bumble’s feminist branding...
Shortly after this exposé, Andreev sold his stake in the holding company for Bumble and his other dating / social networking apps to the Blackstone Group.
Meanwhile, Bumble has continued to face questions about whether it is actually making online dating safer for women, or just exploiting feminist marketing: “From an empirical perspective, they can’t say, ‘We have limited misogyny on Bumble’ because they never had a way to measure it.”
Are we all feminists? Bumble is not the first company built on feminist branding to land in hot water. The Wing, a social club for women, was lauded for creating a co-working space that was labelled a “women’s utopia” by its founder, Audrey Gelman.
Yet, as The New York Times reported, the employee experience was far from an utopia: “Salaried Wing employees often worked punishingly long days without overtime pay, but hourly Wing employees, whose pay currently starts at $16.50 in New York clubs, could have trouble being consistently approved for enough shifts to support themselves.”
And Jezebel published an investigation on the racism prevalent in the company: “There is a refusal and denial to acknowledge the intersections of oppression that continue to affect and traumatize the black and brown colleagues that we have at The Wing. And that’s why it was so hard for people to work there. Even when they would raise their voice, there was just this culture of white silence that perpetuated the entire company.”
Has “girl power” become more about branding than the empowerment of all women?
Things aren’t working for women: Perhaps if the climate towards women in the workplace were rosier, I might sound less cynical about the future of women-focused brands. But with headlines like “A year ago, women outnumbered men in the U.S. workforce, now they account for 100% of jobs lost in December” and “The pandemic is devastating a generation of working women”, it’s hard to feel particularly excited about the prospects of women in business.
In 2020, Equal Pay Day (the day that marks how much longer women must work to equal what men earned the prior year), was March 31st. Let that sink in -- women, on average, needed to work a whole quarter more to earn the same as their male counterparts. Although it is worth noting that March 31st is the earliest that Equal Pay Day has been celebrated, the Census Bureau estimates it will take until 2059 for women to achieve equal pay at this rate. And the pay gap is significantly higher for certain women of color: Black, Native American, and Latina women earn $0.62, $0.57, and $0.54, respectively, for every dollar white men earn.
Not to mention the female funding gap: According to data from Crunchbase, VC funding to female founders fell in 2020. The proportion of dollars to female-only founders declined to a measly 2.3%, relative to 2.8% in 2019. (And not to mention the even larger discrepancy for Black female founders.)
So, yes, congratulations are in order for Whitney Wolfe Herd, but we have a long way to go before the glass ceiling is truly shattered.
As an employee:
According to the 2020 “Women in the Workplace” study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co., 25% of women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to Covid-19. They offer 6 suggestions on how companies can improve their efforts (click the link above for details!):
Make work more sustainable
Reset norms around flexibility
Take a close look at performance reviews
Minimize gender bias
Adjust policies and programs to better support employees
Strengthen employee communication
And stop telling women they have imposter syndrome! “Even if women demonstrate strength, ambition, and resilience, our daily battles with microaggressions, especially expectations and assumptions formed by stereotypes and racism, often push us down. Imposter syndrome as a concept fails to capture this dynamic and puts the onus on women to deal with the effects. Workplaces remain misdirected toward seeking individual solutions for issues disproportionately caused by systems of discrimination and abuses of power.”
As a citizen:
We talked about the importance of family leave policies in an earlier newsletter. Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US) is a non-profit working towards national paid family leave by 2022. Learn more about their current campaigns and sign their open petitions, as well as donate to their cause!
We’ve also discussed policies to protect against workplace sexual harassment. Support legislation to repeal forced arbitration to strengthen the voices of workplace harassment and discrimination survivors.
As an investor:
Ellevest (another company that heavily leans on feminist marketing) published “5 Ways to Be a Financial Feminist in 2021”. We are not necessarily endorsing Ellevest specifically, but we are behind two ideas they call out (1) talking about money--especially if you are a woman and (2) considering gender-lens investing.
To learn more about gender lens investing, check out this article from the Global Impact Investing Network.
As a consumer:
Check out this Vox article on “Why “feminist” advertising doesn’t make us better feminists”: “The biggest problem with popular feminism is that we’re dealing with sexist and patriarchal structures — we still don’t make as much money as men, there still is this discrimination in jobs, rape culture is rampant. My problem with much of popular feminism is that instead of challenging that, it says basically, ‘Look, this is the situation. It’s up to you to just be confident. You can practice your power poses in front of a mirror and then go into a job interview.’”
What went wrong with America’s $44 million vaccine data system?“...unlike others in some states, she wasn’t encountering these problems with a third-party consumer service like Eventbrite, or even through an antiquated government system. She was on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s brand-new, $44 million website called VAMS—the Vaccine Administration Management System, built by the consulting firm Deloitte.”
What went wrong with the Texas power grid?“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which is responsible for scheduling power and ensuring the reliability of the electrical network, declared a statewide power generation shortfall emergency and asked electricity delivery companies to reduce load through controlled outages...Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston, blamed the failures on the state’s deregulated power system, which doesn’t provide power generators with the returns needed to invest in maintaining and improving power plants.”
Big Tech’s next big problem could come from people like ‘Mr. Sweepy’: “If successful, private lawsuits could be costly for Facebook and Google. The companies work with millions of advertisers and publishers every year, and Google hosts apps from scores of developers, meaning there are many potential litigants. The damages could be significant. After the United States sued Microsoft for antitrust violations a generation ago, the company paid $750 million to settle with AOL, at that point the owner of the browser Netscape, which was at the core of the government’s case.”
Billionaire Clover Health CEO Vivek Garipalli’s expletive-ridden tirade: “The Hindenburg report also alleged that Clover Health’s New Jersey-based subsidiary SeekMedicare was misleading customers when it claimed to provide “unbiased” Medicare advice without disclosing that Clover is its parent company. Clover says SeekMedicare was set up as a separate company with its own management team, board, employees and a goal to “provide neutral, objective advice” to consumers. Beyond that, there was an unnamed corporate investor in SeekMedicare, which Forbes revealed on February 12 to be Walgreens.”
Bill Gates has a master plan for battling climate change: “In the fall of 2015, Gates emailed a global cadre of billionaires who could afford to lose tens of millions investing in Breakthrough Energy Ventures. They included Jack Ma, Jeff Bezos, Vinod Khosla and Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. It turned out to be an appealing club to join, and a model of global billionaire diversity (although female members are scarce).”
The new debt prisons: “The Brennan Center reports that it costs states and local government a whopping 121 times more to collect funds through fines and fees than it costs the IRS to collect the same amount of revenue. And while we undergo a national re-examination of cash bail and other forms of criminalization of poverty, we should make a flat determination to stop jailing anyone for failure to pay criminal justice fines and fees due to poverty or lack of income or savings.”
US comedy group Second City set to be bought by private equity: “Strauss Zelnick’s private equity firm is in advanced talks to buy Second City, the storied comedy group that has launched stars including Tina Fey and the late John Belushi. A deal could be agreed as soon as this week, said two people familiar with the matter. The price was not disclosed but the company was expected to fetch about $50m.”
Stay connected via our Instagram, Twitter, Medium, and, of course, email (firstname.lastname@example.org)! Please invite any friends, roommates, coworkers, armchair activists, and feminists to join the movement. See ya next Thursday!