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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
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

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

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- A vote on the vote. House Republicans voted to remove Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership position on Wednesday morning, sending a message about her criticism of former President Trump's denial of the 2020 election results and her vote to impeach. Rep. Elise Stefanik is the leading candidate to replace Cheney in the No. 3 position. CNN

- Changing the channel. After 19 years, Ellen DeGeneres will end her daytime talk show in 2022. DeGeneres said the show "isn't a challenge anymore." Viewership has dropped this year after the host began the season with an apology following reports of a toxic workplace at the show. The Hollywood Reporter

- An Epic trial. The big Epic Games v. Apple trial, deciding whether Apple violates antitrust law with its grip on distribution and payment for apps via the App Store, is being overseen by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. The judge has previously presided over cases involving both companies, from a potential class-action lawsuit that Epic Games settled to a suit accusing Apple of suppressing competition related to iPods (Apple won that one). Wall Street Journal 

- Rock on. This year's inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame include Tina Turner and Carole King. Both have already been honored at the hall of fame, Turner as a member of Ike and Tina Turner and King as a songwriter. Now, both will be granted spots for their careers as solo artists. USA Today

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Phylicia Rashad, the actor known for portraying Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show, will be the dean of Howard University's College of Fine Arts. Marketing exec Jaleh Bisharat joined Wealthfront’s board of directors. BentoBox hired MailChimp's Darcy Kurtz as CMO and Jessi Marcoff as chief people officer. Walmart's Michal Russ joined Rothy's as SVP of technology. Cisco chief customer and partner officer Gerri Elliott and tech exec Amy Chang join Marqeta's board of directors. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- A Scottish first. In elections this past weekend, Scotland sent the first woman of color to the Scottish Parliament. Kaukab Stewart won as a member of the Scottish National Party. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called Stewart's win "a special and important moment." Guardian

- Party politics. In France, meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron’s party dropped its support for Sara Zemmahi, an engineer running to be a deputy council member in a local election in the South of France, because she wore a headscarf in a campaign poster. The party's decision sparked backlash as France continues to reckon with its treatment of Islam and Muslim women. Wall Street Journal

- Pizza party? Malgorzata Lewicka, a receptionist and service adviser at a Ford dealership in the U.K., sued for workplace gender discrimination after she was left out of monthly "pizza Friday" lunches along with other complaints about discrepancies in hours and pay. The judge decided Lewicka was discriminated against as a single mother with childcare commitments in the afternoons; she was awarded about $32,000. Fortune

ON MY RADAR

The real reason behind the misinformation epidemic in online moms' groups Mother Jones

Ivanka. Sean Spicer. Betsy DeVos. Stephen Miller. Where has Trumpworld landed? Slate

Carlyle to tie CEO pay, worker bonuses to diversity goals Bloomberg

Reality Winner was the FBI’s ‘head on a pike’ for Trump. It’s time to set her free Washington Post

PARTING WORDS

"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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