Entrepreneurs

Employees called 'selfish,' 'ungrateful' for negotiating pay at multimillion-dollar start-up

Miki Agrawal, founder and CEO of Thinx.
Source: Thinx
Miki Agrawal, founder and CEO of Thinx.

Women's underwear start-up THINX has been called one of 2017's most innovative companies and applauded for generating "tens of millions of dollars in revenue," but the company's success seems to have bypassed one crucial subset of people: its own employees. According to an expose on the fashion site Racked, workers are underpaid, scolded for advocating for themselves and sufficiently ill-treated that turnover has become a significant issue for the fledgling company.

Since it debuted in 2014, THINX has positioned itself as a stylish, contemporary and post-shame purveyor of menstrual products — its absorbent, moisture-wicking underwear is engineered to be worn while you have your period — and as a brand with both a sense of humor and a conscience. Racked's revelations come, to many, as a rude surprise.

Although almost no one is willing to go on the record with journalist Hilary George-Parkin, current and former employees alike tell her a similar story. "None of us feels safe," one tells Racked. "I'm giving my whole life to THINX basically, like I work all the time, but I can't even afford birth control," says another. And: "It was truly like being in an abusive relationship. And I don't use that analogy lightly."

Image from the THINX Instagram feed
Image from the THINX Instagram feed

Issues include being paid well under industry standard. Racked reports that "several sources say they either took a pay cut or accepted a below-market-rate salary," and when they tried to negotiate for more, even after taking on more responsibilities or higher titles, they were shamed and "dismissed as ungrateful" by founder and then-CEO Miki Agrawal.

There was no HR representative at the company, so Agrawal seems to have handled staffing issues herself, with decidedly mixed results. According to Racked:

"Whenever anybody would try to negotiate with her, [Agrawal] would go back to the fact that we're young, and just be like, 'Oh, you're in your 20s. You don't need a lot of money,'" says one former employee.

She treated it "as if it were selfish to take a salary representative of your worth," says another.

Ironically, given the girl-power branding of both Agrawal and the company she founded, the only employees who succeeded in getting a raise were "two of the few white men who worked at the company," according to one of George-Parkin's sources.

Image from the THINX Instagram feed
Image from the THINX Instagram feed

Racked writes that Agrawal has stepped down as CEO, though the founder told Jezebel, when the women's site reported the same news, that she remains the "SHE-EO." That is also how she is currently listed on the company's website. In an email to Jezebel, Agrawal shrugged off the bad press, writing, "Like every other start-up, there's turnover in the first few years. THINX is no different, we have growing pains too, but now we are on the right track."

George-Parkin characterizes the staff problems as rather more dramatic, writing, "according to several sources, 10 people have left the 35-person company since January."

The company is making adjustments. For example, "the board of directors is actively looking for a 'professional CEO'" and "the leadership team said it planned to hire someone to handle HR," according to Racked.

In the wake of the article, others have stepped forward to air grievances, including model Tyler Ford, who says she backed out of a deal to appear on behalf of THINX after being offered an "abysmal amount of money" and being treated poorly.

CNBC reached out to a THINX spokesperson about these allegations, and she replied, "Our leadership is getting to the bottom of these allegations, and, as ever, we are actively working to address and improve our corporate culture. We look forward to updating the community as new leaders and corporate processes are put into place. Thank you, everyone, for bearing with us in the meantime."

See also: Intel may have figured out the secret to fixing tech's women problem