Outdoor Voices, once hailed as the embodiment of female empowerment, now only embodies the subtle sexism that holds women back in the workplace.
When Ty Haney was just 25, she started an athleisure revolution. Outdoor Voices became known for its bright, comfortable athletic sets, its inclusive advertising, and its unique brand of women who were active, but not necessarily gym rats.
Like many venture capital-backed companies (i.e. the WeWork disaster), Outdoor Voices struggled to turn a popular idea into a profitable business in the short amount of time that Silicon Valley demands. Investors brought in experienced fashion executives (all older, white men) to help the brand figure out its transition.
Then in February, it was announced that Ty would be stepping down. Soon after, she left the company altogether while on maternity leave. As news reports about the situation rolled in and criticism mounted, they quickly painted an unflattering picture that Ty clashed with the executives because she was “spoiled” and “mercurial”. Rather than critique her lack of business experience or perhaps some poor choices, her former colleagues chose to attack her character and lean into sexist tropes about irrational women.
Recently, Ty took to her Instagram to refute what she called a “one-sided narrative.” She wrote,
“I have experienced both gender and generational differences firsthand and these have been very tough to navigate.”
Her post then goes point by point through some of the accusations leveled against her and provides crucial context.
For example, one of the most consistent criticisms is that Haney’s “frivolous” spending is to blame. The New York Times reported earlier this month,
“In 2018, the company’s handful of stores were spending roughly $22,000 on Maison Louis Marie No. 04 candles, $45,000 on fresh flowers and $36,000 on Topo Chico bottled water, according to an internal memo from February 2019.”
In her post, Haney points out the sexism that underlies trotting out these figures over and over again.
“There is an eagerness to label business decisions like purchasing glass bottled water as frivolous rather than ask why this was a smart investment (because it’s part of an environmentally-minded experience that brought people to our events and retail locations which led to significant customer acquisition). These are trends that will only serve to drive women back out of the board room.”
She also rightly noted that shes’s being punished for having specific ideas for her business. The NYT called her “dismissive” of traditional ways and used anonymous quotes from former employees who were critical of Haney, noting petty things like the fact that she blocked some of them on Instagram.
Haney refutes this as well and wrote,
“There is an unsettling trend lately to interview ex-employees of female-founded companies and report their claims either at face value or without any context.”
Such reporting relies on the likability trap for women. We are expected to believe that simply because she was unpopular with some people, she was also incompetent.
What’s most frustrating is that she is being labeled as a temperamental founder in a time when temperamental men are praised for having “vision”. Steve Jobs was notoriously difficult to work with. This is considered part of his genius. Mark Zuckerberg was sued by a friend in the early days of Facebook and it is largely considered an unfortunate anecdote. Only Haney’s mistakes are being used as a career-ender. The failure to turn a profit cannot be chalked up simply to the fact that Haney is an irrational woman, unfit to run her company. Her former coworkers should not be allowed to push that narrative.
The way Haney is being treated emphasizes how hostile the business world is to women. Women-led start-ups only receive 11.5% of all venture capital investment, while all-female teams only get 2.2% of all investment. This figure doesn’t even cover the struggles female founders face once they have the money if they are able to hang on to power at all.
After Tyler Haney’s departure, the entire board of Outdoor Voices is now men.