Whitney Wolfe Herd: How To Build A Workplace Where Women Can Thrive

Photo: Courtesy of Bumble.
When I started the company in 2014 I noticed a gender imbalance in the dating world that I wanted to help solve. I was tired of a system where women waited around for men to send them a message or ask them out. With Bumble — first a dating app, now a social network that helps you make empowering connections in love, life, and business — women had to make the first move or the match was void. What began as my own small way of tackling inequity has turned into my life’s mission: empowering women to make the first move in all areas of their lives.
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From its conception, I wanted Bumble’s culture to match its values. If women were taking charge on our app, then they’d be running the show behind the scenes, too. My first three hires were all young women, one of whom was still in college when we went live in the App Store. They were all relatively inexperienced. Salary wasn’t a priority. We barely had a budget; our marketing included sidewalk chalk on campuses and dressing my Labrador in a bee costume.
In just over three years, my company has grown from a scrappy team of four twentysomethings working out of our first employee's parents' home to a global billion-dollar-plus multinational business with 80 employees in five countries, and multiplying every quarter.
As the company grew, and we began to hire more experienced folks with the skills and training my young team lacked, I struggled with what to do about pay. Should I increase the salaries of my early team to match those of more senior women, and in some cases men?
Candidly, I’ve noticed that throughout my career, whether in offices that are majority male or majority female, the men are quick to advocate for themselves for a higher starting salary or more pay bumps over time. When women fight for a higher salary, they can often feel guilty. When men fight for more pay, they feel empowered. I’ve always wanted to encourage women to go after the money they deserve.

"As the company grew and we began to hire more experienced folks with the skills and training my young team lacked, I struggled with what to do about pay."

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble Founder & CEO
I’ve struggled with this, too. There were times when I’d consider whether I should go to my board to ask for something I needed. I would think, I’m not going to fight for this. Then I’d stop and consider whether a man would feel the same way.
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In part to combat this confidence gap — and the way women are socialized not to discuss money — we instituted a semi-annual review at Bumble that includes a mandatory open discussion about salary. That doesn’t mean we automatically grant each employee’s request – we hold our team to high performance standards and have budgets just like everyone else - but we do expect each employee to advocate for themselves, and we give them the negotiating tools and the forum to do so.
Once a quarter, we discuss professional growth and career trajectory. We want our workforce feeling safe, secure, and confident. How can you fight for equal pay if you don’t even have an open dialogue with your boss?
Pay is, of course, just a part of the equation that keeps women back in the working world. The other part is opportunity, especially for mothers. Women often feel they have to apologize for daring to have children as well as careers. While all women make less than men on average, the “motherhood penalty,” as it’s been called, sees working moms paid 71 cents for each dollar paid to working dads, according to a National Women’s Law Center study of census data. (In Texas, where Bumble is headquartered, it’s less: 70 cents on the dollar.)
And moms already work so much harder. I’m not a mother yet (though I hope to be someday), but I can see how hard the moms on our team work. They have to pump while on conference calls. They have to jet out the door five minutes before school pickup, leaving a stack of emails to respond to late at night once they finish their family time. They have to navigate sick days and school closings, whether or not that conflicts with a board meeting or urgent deadline.
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We want all our employees, mothers included, to bring their whole selves to work. We’ve built flexibility into our DNA, created beautiful, well-stocked places to pump, and developed a culture that flexes to allow kids to work alongside parents when needed. We have days when there are a handful of little ones coloring, doing arts and crafts projects, and playing together in our office. It’s just part of life here.

"While we can’t always give everyone the raise they’re seeking, I’m proud of the sheer fact that someone’s asking."

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble Founder & CEO
I think often of a talk Michelle Obama gave a few years ago, when she told the audience at the White House Working Families Summit about taking daughter Sasha, then an infant and still breastfeeding, to a job interview.
“If you want me to do the job, you’ve got to pay me to do the job, and you’ve got to give me flexibility,” she said at the time. She got the gig: She became a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center. If only all workplaces were so forward-thinking.
It’s on us as business leaders to ensure that modern workplace dynamics change with the times. Women are running businesses. We don’t have to mimic what the men have always done. We can create our own culture, and structure, and guidelines.
Today, a woman fills every director’s role at Bumble. We’re transparent about compensation and opportunities, both for these senior women and employees of all genders working their way up. And while we can’t always give everyone the raise they’re seeking, I’m proud of the sheer fact that someone’s asking.
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Women still earn 80 cents to a white man’s dollar. And yet, one-third of Americans aren’t even aware of the wage gap. Let’s keep the conversation going. Head here to learn more about Equal Pay Day.
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