ThirdLove and the Lie of a 'Feminist' Company

Screenshot: ThirdLove

Over at Vox, reporter Zoe Schiffer has an interesting story about ThirdLove, the upstart bra company that positions its lingerie as “by women, for women.” Turns out that contrary to its feminist public image, actually working for the company seems pretty awful: employees complain about a bunch of things, including low pay, shitty benefits, and a co-CEO that bullies them.

The often shitty reality of working at ThirdLove seems to have surprised employees who were expecting a different reality from a supposedly “feminist” company. More, from Vox:

Many women saw ThirdLove’s marketing and believed it was a “different” type of startup. Several employees who joined in recent years said they did so because they believed ThirdLove was a female-run company with an important mission and an empowering environment. When they arrived, they were surprised to find [Heidi] Zak’s husband and co-CEO, David Spector, highly involved in their day-to-day work, with a management style described as “condescending” and “bullying.” This about-face was compounded by company norms — don’t negotiate your salary, don’t leave before 6 pm, don’t work from home, don’t skip a happy hour — that felt out of sync with the brand’s external image.

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Several women who worked at ThirdLove shared that they were offered “surprisingly low” salaries, and were told that the company didn’t negotiate compensation, a practice that some companies have instituted in an effort to have pay parity but that, when paired with low salaries, can feel punitive. “At a by women, for women company, I was kind of bummed out that they didn’t expect me to come in and negotiate,” one woman told Vox. “They try to make you feel greedy,” another one said, commenting on salary negotiation. When it came to benefits like parental leave, according to Vox, ThirdLove for years only provided a paltry six weeks of leave. (It has since gone up to four months.)

And then there’s the behavior of co-CEO David Spector, whose role in the company has long been obscured in the company’s marketing, which focuses largely on co-founder Heidi Zak. According to former employees, Spector is a micromanaging bully, which became clear once he started ThirdLove’s very public war with Victoria’s Secret (emphasis my own):

After that, every social media post had to be pre-approved by the leadership team, which now seemed to mean only Spector. “He definitely would go fishing for random things, find some minute detail and blow up about that,” a former employee told us. People remember him standing over employees’ shoulders, dictating colors, images, and even fonts for social media posts and advertisements.

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“People were getting bullied,” Lauren added. Multiple times, an employee who worked at the front desk said Spector walked into the office with a small piece of trash and reprimanded her for not cleaning up the street outside. “When you’re in the position of being reprimanded by the CEO as a pretty low-level worker, it’s never a good feeling,” the employee said.

While some employees at ThirdLove told Vox that they had positive experiences working for the company, the article depicts a pretty awful workplace—what one former employee called a “toxic” environment—particularly for those who were inspired to work for the company due to its public image. “New hires feel like they’re joining a movement they believe in and have a really hard experience when they realize that’s an illusion,” she told Vox. As another former employee told Vox, “In a by women, for women company, it’s pretty ironic that we’re all tiptoeing around a man.”

Yet the dissonance between ThirdLove’s message of empowerment and its actual internal workings is not unique. Let’s recall Thinx, the period underwear company started up by Miki Agrawal, who was ousted as the company’s CEO (or She-E-O, as she preferred to style herself) amid reports that she harassed and bullied employees, who in addition to working in a hostile environment were underpaid and provided paltry benefits. And of course, there was Nasty Gal, founded by #GirlBoss Sophia Amoruso, whose company, before it imploded, was the target of a lawsuit alleging it had fired women because they were pregnant.

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All of these companies’ stated values and public-facing image center (or centered) on promoting, supporting, and empowering women, selling products meant to make women’s lives easier. To style a company as feminist is a marketing move that is in vogue now—everything from having a CEO that is a woman to selling products geared towards woman (or even just used by women) is now lauded as some sort of win for women. But it should be obvious by now that that sort of shallow feminist gloss is a facade that simply covers up business as usual. They’re just selling you something.

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About the author

Esther Wang

Senior staff writer, Jezebel