In her popular book “Lean In”, Sheryl Sandberg addresses the gender inequities in the tech industry and the numerous obstacles women face trying to achieve fair and equal treatment in the workplace. The book sparked a national discussion, inspiring the creation of “Lean In groups”, and pushed both men and women to consider sexism in their various work environments. Despite Sandberg’s success, sexism, including outright sexual harassment, is alive and well in the tech industry that she calls home.
Whitney Wolfe, a former employee at Tinder, filed a lawsuit in June alleging that she faced sexual harassment and discrimination at the company that she helped found. There are two central points to the lawsuit: that she was sexually harassed by Justin Mateen, the Chief Marketing Officer, and that Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, the CEO, stripped her of her title of co-founder because they did not want Tinder to have female co-founder.
The sexual harassment charge seems fairly undisputable. Even Tinder has agreed that there was proof of sexual harassment, and suspended Mr. Mateen while they finish their own investigation. The messages that Mr. Mateen sent Ms. Wolfe have not been released but it is agreed upon by all parties that he called her inappropriate, demeaning names while saying lewd and threatening remarks. What is being questioned is the validity of her claim to being stripped of her co-founder status.
The management at Tinder, as well as some other key players in the tech industry, claim that Wolfe was never a co-founder. They argue that although she helped market Tinder in the beginning, she was not responsible for creating it, and was only granted the co-founder title for select interviews at her request. Those on Ms. Wolfe’s side argue that she played an important role in the beginning of the process by creating the team’s marketing strategy and building up an extensive customer base.
Examples such as this add to the narrative that Silicon Valley is hostile to woman. In its first ever diversity report, Google revealed that 70% of its staff are men. Although some women, like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Meyer, have become famous for their success, the average woman in the tech industry still faces an incredibly male dominated field. Whitney Wolfe’s story, despite those who would dispute it, shows that sexism in the workplace is not a relic of the Mad Men era, but a real modern-day problem that women still must consider when entering the workforce.