Running a fast-growing–and highly public startup–is nothing if not thrilling. And while you may love being the center of attention, it’s no fun when the spotlight gets too hot.
Just ask Miki Agrawal, the rock-star entrepreneur and co-founder of Thinx, a feminine hygiene products company in New York. Shortly after announcing her departure as CEO, a new investigation by Racked uncovered a range of deficiencies at the company including weak maternity leave programs and poor wages to hostile negotiations.
Citing current and former unnamed employees, the report describes a dysfunctional workplace that drove nearly a third of its 35-person staff to leave the company since January. The company, which is already in the throes of searching for a “professional CEO,” says it plans to investigate the allegations highlighted in the report.
“We are actively working to address and improve our corporate culture,” a Thinx spokesperson told Inc. “We look forward to updating the community as new leaders and corporate processes are put into place.”
The alleged problems at Thinx highlight the difficulty young (read, untested) CEOs often have when managing a growing startup. While it’s not fair to say all young CEOs have issues with managing and keeping employees happy, it is undeniable that many struggle–particularly when a CEO is juggling everything from speaking engagements, social media personas and, you know, running a company.
At Thinx, the Racked story gives ample space to a variety of voices that describe a mercurial leadership, who could be tough to read. “One day they could be in a super great mood and everything’s fine and dandy and you’re being praised left and right, or else you walk in and you’re treated like you’re dirt,” noted one former employee. “That takes an emotional and physical toll on you.”
But you could look at a dozens of similar complaints at startups including Uber, Blue Apron, Rent the Runway, Zenefits, and more. So maybe the question shouldn’t be why are individual CEOs such bad managers, but instead, what can we do as a startup culture to prevent such poor conditions from spreading or persisting?
Inc.com HR columnist Suzanne Lucas recently wrote that for starters you could employ an HR staff. While it can be tough to hire more people at a cash-strapped startup, it may be preferable to ending up on page 1 with a less than savory headline. And naturally you need to be prepared for brutal feedback–that is, if your HR department is working properly. “If you’re a slacker or a jerk, HR should be the department advocating for you to be “transitioned out” of the organization” writes Lucas.
Ultimately, Thinx is on the right track. While it is impossible to deny Agrawal’s star power– her accolades include being named one of Inc.’s Most Innovative Women in 2016 and 2017′s Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, among others–she may not be the right person to grow the company into the future.