Former Rent the Runway employees describe working at the company as a nightmare tantamount to Mean Girls, reports Fortune, in a deep-dive examining why seven executive level employees have left the high-end clothing and accessories rental site within a year. “You don’t feel it’s an environment where women support each other,” an ex-employee told the the magazine under condition of anonymity. “It felt like high school, it was very clique-y.”
Fortune’s Daniel Roberts writes:
Five former senior employees, all female, spoke with Fortune on condition of anonymity because they did not want to jeopardize existing relationships or, in some cases, violate nondisclosure agreements. Each of them described a stressful work environment that can be unwelcoming and non-inclusive. Three of them likened the atmosphere at Rent the Runway to the 2004 film Mean Girls. Each one made that reference separately, without prodding.
“The culture is unpredictable and erratic,” says one former employee. “Everybody knew and talked about it amongst themselves, but it was never formally acknowledged. It’s not like there were complaints to HR. People were too afraid. There wasn’t even really an HR.” The former employee adds that there were “frequent screaming matches” in the office between top executives.
Former employees tell Fortune that a private Facebook group called “Rent the Runaways” is populated by 96 ex-employees “because everyone there has PTSD.” Four employees have left the site in the past two months (whether by choice or by layoff), including COO, CFO, CCO, and CTO.
CEO Jennifer Hyman counters that those executives left because Rent the Runway “needed a very different team to scale us,” she told Fortune. “This is not to say that you need to always have people who have ‘been there, done that,’ that’s not always true, but you need a mix of people who are Rent the Runway in their blood and then folks who had been C-level executives before, who weren’t learning on the job… who have been to the rodeo.”
When asked about the comments from former employees, Hyman says, “It’s extremely disappointing to hear because I care so much about the culture and about every single person who I’ve ever hired. This has been by far the most emotional, difficult year of my career.” Asked to respond to the specific analogy of a Mean Girls culture, Hyman said, “I would describe it as the opposite of that. There are no cliques in the office. There is an openness. People feel extremely comfortable with me personally. I have office hours where they can come talk to me.”
However, there’s been speculation since May that The Knockoff, a novel written by former Rent the Runway employee Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza, is based on Sykes’s experiences working at Rent the Runway. Vanity Fair hinged a piece on this assumption in July, noting that Hyman’s wedding, called off at the last minute, is replicated in the book, and physical characteristics between Hyman and the main character, Eve Morton, are a near match.
If you know more about this, or are a former employee who wants to talk (even anonymously), we’d love to hear from you—get in touch.
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Jennifer Hyman image via Getty.