In August 2017, Perry Coneybeer was in a dilemma on whether to take up a full-time job in a growing startup like Ripcord or to continue her studies at Northeastern University. She took a bold step of joining the startup, deciding that she might end up making some extra money to fund her schooling.
All her excitement was momentary as soon as she started working with the robotics startup. What seemed to be a great place to work was marred by hostile workplace culture, which according to Perry, was full of lewd behavior with graphic sexual conversations related to pornography and prostitution. She was herself a victim to this, and after she filed a formal complaint, she was fired, along with the co-founder who stood up for her.
Perry wrote in her blog stating, “In spite of my initial excitement, my experiences [at Ripcord] left me severely discouraged. The objectification, marginalization, and outright harassment I observed and experienced in my eight months there have made me realize that this is a story that needs to be shared.”
The company and its board of directors has indicated that they will conduct a detailed investigation on this matter and has committed to appropriate action if the allegations are true. The company issued a statement which said, “Ripcord cares deeply about fostering a positive workplace culture. Respect and integrity are absolutely integral to our ability to succeed.”
This incident is the latest among a series of similar incidents that has put a question on workplace culture in Silicon Valley, and corporate America in general. Last year, Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, had written a memo alleging the ride-hailing company of hostile work culture and sexual harassment. This memo was responsible for the ousting of CEO Travis Kalanick and also exposed sexual harassment within the tech industry.
The reason charges by Coneybeer is a notable one is because Ripcord is a high-profile and high-flying startup, backed by some of the leading names in the industry. Sources also indicate that Coneybeer refused to sign the non-disparagement agreement that was offered to her as a condition of severance.
Coneybeer stated, “For me, the ability to speak out and not be silenced is more important than the money I would get from legal action.” According to Coneybeer, the first real problem that she faced was at the far end of her internship at Ripcord. She and another intern were looking out for their boss, Kim Lembo, who is also co-founder and Vice President of Marketing.
They found Lembo with Fielding, the CEO, and Chris Chib, the Vice President of Sales, in an open-door meeting. As soon as they were asked to join the meeting, Lembo left the meeting room in the pretext of attending a business call. After Lembo left, Fielding started making weird remarks and sexually-charged boasts. Coneybeer stated that Fielding informed the interns about a pornographic video that was shared with him by a Ripcord employee.
Whatever transpired in the meeting room between Fielding and the intern was absolutely shocking and horrific for a 19-year-old intern. According to her, it is possible that Fielding made up these stories, however, they were very disturbing.