Life Outside the Boys Club: Why I Spoke Up About Rivian’s Toxic Bro Culture (and Got Fired).
Women are not given the linear paths to success that many men take for granted. My 20-year journey in the automotive industry began with an entry-level role at Jaguar Land Rover and led to becoming the first female President in Aston Martin’s 108-year history. To achieve that success, I took jobs nobody else wanted and worked tirelessly for every opportunity. My love for Aston Martin and my team made it difficult for me to take a leap to join a new, relatively unknown electric vehicle company: Rivian.
Rivian publicly boasts about its culture, so it was a crushing blow when I joined the company and almost immediately experienced a toxic bro culture that marginalizes women and contributes to the company making mistakes. I raised concerns to HR about the gender discrimination from my manager, the “boys club” culture, and the impact it was having on me, my team, and the company. Two days later, my boss fired me.
Rivian recruited me to create a sales and marketing arm as they prepared to sell their first vehicles. Prior to my arrival, there was no organization in place to ensure a successful launch of the promised 1,000 vehicles. Though this was a challenge, I was excited to join a company that was building a brand and its planet-minded vehicles from the ground up and that led every conversation with the importance of company culture. This emphasis on culture resonated deeply with me as I believe that the greatest brands and companies will survive and thrive not just by the products they make but the culture they create to find and keep great talent.
The culture at Rivian was carefully cultivated, but not in the manner it was advertised. Rivian in many ways resembled other automotive companies, dominated by men at the top; however, the most striking difference between Rivian and the other companies where I had worked was a lack of automotive experience among the other executives. The company’s founder, R.J. Scaringe, was clearly and literally in the driver’s seat, and he surrounded himself with a tight knit group of men who constantly had his ear. Many of these men had worked together before or hired one another and had created their own “boys’ club”.
The bro culture affected how the most important decisions were being made at the company. Despite my 20 years of auto experience, and my position as VP of Sales and Marketing, I was excluded from crucial meetings that impacted our mission and my team. Time and time again, I raised concerns regarding vehicle pricing and manufacturing deadlines, but no one listened, even though I have extensive experience launching and pricing vehicles. It wasn’t until my (often less experienced) male colleagues raised the exact same ideas that the Chief Growth Officer (internally called Chief Commercial Officer) would respond. Never in my years in the auto industry had I experienced such blatant marginalization.
Exclusion became a pattern, and I was left out of countless meetings where business needs and my role dictate that I should have been present. I thought that my years of experience and my deep knowledge and expertise had earned me a spot at the table, but at Rivian it did not. While my male colleagues sat in the meeting room without me, I could not even schedule one on one meetings with my boss the Chief Growth Officer. He told me he would only communicate with me by instant messenger and that would be outside office hours, ‘late in the evening’.
Finally, I asked another female senior executive to please include me in meetings regarding sales planning and volumes, which were key to my work leading the sales and marketing organization. I was stunned when she informed me that she was also excluded from these meetings, which were key to her role as well. It is unbelievable that two high-level female executives would be left out of these meetings directly impacting their work. This was not the culture that Rivian prided itself on, and I realized that to change it I needed to raise my voice.
I decided the most appropriate approach would be to talk with my HR business partner. I explained to her the instances of exclusion and marginalization I had been experiencing, specifically by our Chief Growth Officer, and my overall concern that there was a bro culture at Rivian that was impacting women. She told me that the Chief Growth Officer had not been speaking to her either, and that she heard what I was saying. It was a relief to finally be heard, and I was optimistic that change would happen.
Just two days later, my boss, the Chief Growth Officer, who had not had a one-on-one meeting with me in months called me into the office for a meeting. As I entered the room, he was sitting there with the same HR business partner to whom I had reported the gender discrimination I was experiencing. My boss told me that I was fired. He assured me that I was a well-respected, high performer. The reason he gave for the termination? This was part of a larger “reorganization,” but I was the only person “reorganized.” My Response? “Bullshit.”
I pointed out that there was no coincidence in my firing and my raising concerns of bro culture and gender discrimination just two days earlier. The very person I had flagged as promoting the discriminatory culture was the person who terminated me.
It is simply not credible that the company would eliminate the executive responsible for sales and marketing just as Rivian was beginning to sell vehicles and was on the eve of an IPO. And a vastly growing company that was hiring over 200 new employees a week does not eliminate high performers without some ulterior motive. I had witnessed less qualified male colleagues be shifted around in an effort to keep them at Rivian.
Sadly, my story is not unique. This happens to women all the time. Countless women do not voice their concerns in the workplace because they fear such retribution. Rivian has a toxic culture and a pattern of marginalizing women, but they are not the only ones.
I have spent many years speaking to women about achieving their dreams, not letting industries that are traditionally male dominated deter them from going after what they want, and to bring more women with them along the way. That is why Rivian’s retaliation against me is so heartbreaking. In addition to harming my family and me, it has the potential to deter other women from pursuing opportunities or from speaking out about discrimination.
No woman should be afraid to question the culture they are witnessing at work. That is why it was so important for me to come forward publicly and hold Rivian accountable.