Rivian Automotive is fast becoming a leader among domestic electric vehicle manufacturers. Backed by both Amazon and Ford, the Irvine-based company went public last week. But a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination sheds light on the toxic inner workings of the company’s culture at the highest levels.
Laura Schwab, the company’s former Vice President of Sales & Marketing, filed a lawsuit against the company and spoke out through a blog post on Medium.com about her disheartening experience with the “boys’ club” at Rivian. Although she spoke up before the company went public, her allegations appear to have had little or no impact on investors. Rivian still had a wildly successful IPO. With a valuation soaring around $100 billion, the company is second only to Tesla as the most valuable automaker in the country. (Tesla, incidentally, has its own problems with discrimination and inequality.)
Schwab’s Story: Getting Shut Out and Sidelined
Schwab has a long and successful career as a female executive in the automotive industry, which is notoriously male-dominated. She was the first female president in Aston Martin’s 100-plus year history. She spent five years as head of that company’s North American division before joining Rivian. She made the move in hopes of contributing to the success of an eco-friendly manufacturer that touted the importance of company culture. However, she quickly found out that the company’s behind-the-scenes culture was far different than the one it projected publicly.
Schwab says the company’s founder, R.J. Scaringe, ran the show. He surrounded himself with yes-men who had little or no experience in the automotive industry. When Schwab raised concerns about the company’s sales plan and vehicle pricing, nobody listened. But when male colleagues parroted those same concerns and voiced Schwab’s proposed solutions as their own, the company implemented them.
Schwab says she and another female executive were shut out of important meetings and sidelined from the decision-making process. Her boss refused to meet with her or address any of her concerns.
The Final Blow: Retaliation
Schwab finally met with an HR partner to discuss her concerns in October. The HR partner, also a female, said she had those same concerns and that Schwab’s boss wouldn’t speak with her, either. Schwab thought she had finally found an ally.
Two days later, however, Schwab’s boss fired her under the pretense of “reorganization.” She was the only one let go, and the timing of the firing – two days after she reported her concerns to HR, and on the brink of an IPO – reeks of retaliation.
Gender Discrimination is Still Rampant in Male-Dominated Industries
Schwab’s termination not only impacts her career path (and the millions of dollars she’s lost in unvested equity), but it’s also a devastating blow for women on similar career paths. Discrimination and retaliation are still far too rampant, even in seemingly forward-thinking tech and automotive companies that appear to value diversity.
Far too women at all levels of employment face gender discrimination in countless forms. It takes courage to speak up about it. By taking that brave step, Schwab is paving the way to accountability not just for herself, but for those who follow in her footsteps.