It’s been a week of high-profile departures for top female startup founders. In each case, the companies have posted messages of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, then have been called out by employees and customers for creating a racist culture.
Business of Fashion reports that Yael Aflalo, founder of the 11-year-old womenswear brand Reformation, has just stepped down as CEO. A week ago, Elle Santiago, a former assistant manager at the L.A. flagship store, delineated a list of racist incidents she’d experienced while working there on Instagram, from being passed over for promotions in favor of less-qualified white women to the fact that Aflalo never spoke up when a white employee posted pictures of herself on Instagram eating fried chicken to celebrate Black History Month. Santiago said that Aflalo appeared to “purposely not answer if I called her name.”
In response, Aflalo posted an apology on Reformation’s Instagram account, saying she’d failed as a leader. The CEO said she’d acknowledged her shortcomings as a leader when she “stepped back” two years ago, though she’d retained her title until today. Effective immediately, she will be replaced by the brand’s current president Hali Borenstein.
Yesterday, Audrey Gelman, cofounder of The Wing, stepped down from her role as CEO, in the wake of black and POC employees speaking up about how poorly they had been treated by the company. Earlier in the year, The New York Times Magazine published an exposé that revealed that while the startup was designed to be a utopian coworking space for women, many black and brown employees who worked at the company described being poorly treated. Christene Barbarich, cofounder of lifestyle website Refinery29, has also left her position as editor-in-chief of that publication after several black writers spoke about how they had been consistently marginalized at the publication.
For several years, these women were upheld as inspiring examples of female leadership, or “Girl Bosses” to use a term coined by NastyGal founder Sophia Amuroso. They promised to blaze a trail for other women and level the playing field in male-oriented industries. It is only in the wake of the most recent Black Lives Matter protests that they’ve been called out for their racist behavior.