This is one surprising setback, both for a proven leader and a promising young company.
This week Rivian went public and raised nearly $100 billion to fund one of the most promising new electric car makers.
But just last week, the company’s former head of sales and marketing, Laura Schwab, blew the whistle on the “toxic bro culture” at Rivian Automotive and filed a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against them.
If you are unfamiliar with Rivian, it is an electric vehicle company that has been making a splash with the electric truck and SUV concepts they’ve built, and for becoming Wall Street’s newest Unicorn.
To sell investors and customers, Rivian has been very deliberate in their company mission and storytelling. Rivian is clear that they want to leave a better planet; they want to contribute to their communities, and that they employ a diverse workforce.
But, it seems, the story doesn’t match up with reality.
From Shattering a Glass Ceiling at Aston Martin to Running into it at Rivian
If you’re unfamiliar with Laura Schwab, she was hired by Rivian to be their vice president of sales and marketing. Let’s be clear, Laura Schwab is no rookie. Her previous title was President of the Americas for Aston Martin, a position she held at that company for over five years. She came into the president job from her five years before that as a director of marketing, and also as the general manager of the north region. Previously, she had over nine years in various roles at Land Rover North America and Land Rover U.K. That is a lot of professional boxes checked, ladies and gentlemen.
Taking Action Against a Toxic Culture Had Consequences
It is incredibly frustrating to read what Laura has experienced at Rivian. She says, “Rivian publicly boasts about its culture, so it was a crushing blow when I joined the company and almost immediately experienced a toxic bro culture that marginalizes women and contributes to the company making mistakes. I raised concerns to HR about the gender discrimination from my manager, the “boys club” culture, and the impact it was having on me, my team, and the company. Two days later, my boss fired me.”
You can read her statement here.
When Laura showed up to work at Rivian, she was left out of the very conversations she was brought in to have. She did not expect that a company on the cusp of launching an IPO would ignore her concerns and recommendations, but noted that when male colleagues brought up the same recommendations she previously had, those recommendations were heeded. Additionally, when she discussed her experiences with other women at the company, those women said their experiences were the same.
So many aspects of Laura’s experiences sting. That she left a supportive environment with an exceptional team to branch out and try something new and different; that she has the experience to succeed but was shut out from being given the opportunity to do so; that once she raised concerns the company didn’t try to troubleshoot her concerns or even just ignore her-they terminated her employment; that the company says they want a diverse workforce but do not know how to incorporate voices other than those already on the inside.
Rivian has not commented on the case yet, citing a quiet period before the IPO.
Related: What Drives Her: How Diversity — And Equity and Inclusion — Is Changing the Face of the Auto Industry
So Who Is Doing it Right?
While diversity remains a challenge for some, companies, we’ve written about many women making positive impacts in the automotive world. Chief among them (pardon the pun) is Mary Barra, CEO at General Motors. Genesis Motor North America has recently named Claudia Marquez as their COO. Nissan has three women at the executive level, Sonia Rief (VP), Judy Wheeler (Division VP), and Allyson Witherspoon (CMO). Sandra Phillips Rogers is Toyota’s chief legal and chief diversity officer. The list goes on and on, and you can read about many dynamic movers, shakers and glass-ceiling breakers here.
We’re pretty sure Laura will surface to lead another company soon. And we’re pretty sure that Rivian can’t make it on phony promises and a toxic culture, even if they deliver on the trucks and SUVs they’ve promised. But we are disappointed that with all the great strides that our industry has made in diversity and inclusion, and with the rise of promising women to top roles, that this setback had to happen. To a company with such great promise and to a leader with such great skills.