Analyzing the Thinx Controversy

The fallout from the Thinx scandal — a startup company that integrated feminism into its marketing for its “period-proof” underwear products — has been well-documented over the past couple weeks.  Thinx co-founder Miki Agrawal has come under fire for providing lackluster benefits for her largely female workforce, harassing employees, and only allowing raises for male employees.

Agrawal built a reputation for being unafraid to tackle taboo subjects, like menstruation and sex, in the workplace and also in her personal life. However, her blatant openness rubbed much of her staff the wrong way — she’s been accused of inappropriately touching employees and detailing her own sexual exploits in front of them.

Agrawal’s career meltdown is reminiscent of the controversy surrounding Uber and its CEO, Travis Kalanick. Both Agrawal and Kalanick took very different paths to fall from grace, but the end results are similar: a company-wide crisis that alienated many female employees. Another common theme between Thinx and Uber — an underwhelming/nonexistent focus on building competent human resources teams that could effectively handle internal issues.

Agrawal alluded in an interview that she believes in people working out their problems between themselves without the assistance of a third party. While this is an arguably admirable philosophy, it also comes across as painfully naive and idealistic for a professional work environment. There simply are times where a mediator is the best option to solve a conflict. Not having the proper resources on hand for those types of hostile or awkward situations will only diminish company morale and bring the involved parties no closer to a resolution.

Thinx and Uber should be stark reminders to all business owners, both small and large, that mistreating employees is a recipe for public relations nightmare. 10 of Thinx’s 35 employees have recently left the company, even after its revenue increased exponentially in 2016. The appeal of working at an innovative company with a unique mission can only stay strong if there is a means to an end for the actual employees. In addition to abusing her employees, Agrawal failed to fairly compensate them, especially considering the advanced growth of her brand. Her frustrated employees eventually decided enough was enough, and inevitably lashed out on Agrawal for all the public to see.

Agrawal’s rise and decline is a classic case of a manager experiencing success and not spreading the wealth. That in itself is enough to alienate a workforce — add in her utter lack of regard for her employees’ emotional happiness, and it’s clear that she fostered an entirely toxic environment and ended up counteracting all of her external success with internal turmoil.

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