Whitney Wolfe Herd says a new trend is discouraging female entrepreneurs

May 13, 2021, 12:54 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Ellen DeGeneres ends her daily talkshow, the judge presiding over Epic Games v. Apple has history with both companies, and Whitney Wolfe Herd says female founders are subject to unfair scrutiny. Have a lovely Thursday.

– ‘It’s unfair and it’s wrong.’ Late last year, Fortune senior writer Maria Aspan posed an important question: Are women in the startup world being unfairly targeted?

It was prompted by a slew of resignations by female founders like Away’s Steph Korey and the Wing’s Audrey Gelman, who’d been forced out of the companies they built by accusations that they’d fostered toxic workplaces or failed to champion Black and brown employees.

Maria explored the nuances of this trend: Many of the women served as the public faces of their companies, opening themselves up to heightened press scrutiny. Many of the startups professed feminist or socially driven missions, making it more apparent when their own cultures fell short of those ideals. And female founders as a whole own less equity than male founders, meaning they’re more vulnerable to the whims of their boards.

The question had no easy, straight-forward answer. And even founders themselves were split. Alex West Steinman, cofounder and CEO of the Coven, a ­Minneapolis-based women’s coworking startup, told Maria, “There’s absolutely a double standard for women.” While Alexa von Tobel, founder of financial planning startup, LearnVest, who now runs her own VC firm, Inspired Capital, said, “Being a founder is so hard, but the playing field felt relatively fair.”

This week, Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd weighed in on the phenomenon, arguing that female founders are in fact held to a higher standard than their male counterparts. “It’s unfair and it’s wrong,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

“Cancel the people who deserve to be canceled. Don’t cancel women because someone has hurt feelings over something that a man would never even be judged for,” she said.

I’d argue that hurt feeling matter, especially when they reflect larger cultural problems, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence and research that suggest female leaders pay a far steeper price for missteps and behavior that’s considered “unfeminine.”

Wolfe Herd, whose dating app company went public in February, said she personally has “been under such a microscope;” subject to “snooping around” and “scrutiny.”

“I mean this will paralyze a woman emotionally,” she said. “I can’t even count…how many young women have said to me, ‘I don’t want to start a business anymore. I don’t want to be the next so-and-so. I don’t want to be taken down.'”

That’s a concern that Maria unearthed in her story too; that the trend of women being forced from the companies they founded could have a chilling effect on the next generation of female entrepreneurs.

Claire Zillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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"There is no career path that comes free of negativity. If you're being met with resistance, that probably means doing something new. If you're experiencing turbulence or pressure, that probably means you're rising."

-Taylor Swift, accepting the global icon honor at the Brit Awards on Tuesday night

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