The ‘bro culture’ accusations against electric vehicle startup Rivian ticks every box on the toxic workplace checklist

November 5, 2021, 1:09 PM UTC
A former executive is suing electric vehicle maker Rivian, alleging gender discrimination.
A former executive is suing electric vehicle maker Rivian, alleging gender discrimination.
Michael Brochstein—SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! 23andMe enters phase two, Barstool Sports’ founder faces chilling accusations, and a former electric vehicle exec sues for discrimination ahead of a major IPO. Have a relaxing weekend.

– On a familiar road. Auto exec Laura Schwab, a vet of Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover, is suing Rivian, the electric vehicle startup where she was formerly VP of sales and marketing, for allegedly firing her after she complained about gender discrimination.

Her case—which is detailed in this Wall Street Journal story and in a Medium post Schwab published yesterday—alleges that she was routinely ignored and excluded from meetings and conversations that were essential to her job. She says that two days after she went to HR to discuss the “toxic ‘bro culture,’” she was fired as part of a reorg—in which she was the only person to lose her job.

The accusations hit the company at a pivotal moment: it’s expected to go public next week. Rivian cited that debut to the WSJ, declining to comment during its pre-IPO “quiet period.”

I will admit that one of the things that went through my head while reading this story was: If companies are going to insist on perpetuating exclusionary “bro” cultures, could they at least try to be creative about it?

Okay, okay—this is nothing to be flip about, but when you’ve read enough of these kinds of stories—and believe me, I have!—you can’t help but predict the similarities that crop up, time and time again. As Schwab herself writes in her Medium post: “Sadly, my story is not unique.” Female executives marginalized and shut out of critical conversations: CHECK. Women’s ideas ignored until they find their way into the mouths of male colleagues: CHECK. A male boss who makes himself unreachable: CHECK. Male CEOs surrounded by “yes men,” female execs boxed out of promised compensation, and ultimately, HR responding to cultural concerns by finding a reason to rid the company of the complainant: CHECK, CHECK, CHECK. (Again, in the case of Rivian, the company has not commented on any of these allegations.)

It’s interesting to note, as the Journal does, that Schwab is being represented by the firm that worked on behalf of Françoise Brougher, the former Pinterest COO who brought a gender discrimination and wrongful termination suit against the company that was ultimately settled for $22.5 million. As you may recall, Brougher’s account of her experience at Pinterest ticked off pretty much all of the check boxes listed above.

With apologies to Tolstoy, it seems as if all unhappy, gender-discriminatory company cultures are alike—or at least share some powerful similarities. So, if you spot even one or two of these behaviors at your company, the takeaway is clear: you have a problem. Speak up via internal channels, fix it (if you’re in a position to do so), or, if all else fails, follow Schwab and Brougher’s lead by publicly calling out the toxicity. Otherwise, the checklist will continue to repeat itself.

Kristen Bellstrom

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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