Sean Rad Has Been Demoted As CEO Of Tinder, And The Story Is A Good Cautionary Tale About Relationships At Work

Sean Rad, the creator and former CEO of Tinder, has been demoted from his position leading the company. Tinder’s parent company, IAC, voted him out partially because Tinder could be making more money, and partially because of his ongoing association with Justin Mateen, who was the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit from former Tinder employee (and Mateen’s former partner) Whitney Wolfe, which was settled out of court.

Forbes’ cover story on the story of Tinder and Rad’s ousting is pretty fascinating if you happen to be really interested in the legalities of employment contracts — which I am — but moreover serves as a cautionary tale about boundaries at work. It turned out, during the course of the lawsuit, that Wolfe had used a lot of the same inflammatory language toward Mateen during the course of their breakup for which she sued him. That stands to reason it seems unlikely that one party would have behaved like a saint during a difficult breakup, while they were working closely for the same company, while their closest friends were also employees of that company.

It merits saying (for the fifteen millionth time) that tech has a woman problem, that maybe the atmosphere genuinely became hostile to Wolfe during the course of the breakup, and that maybe that’s why she wound up with a settlement. It also merits saying that inflammatory language toward women has a very different history and set of connotations than inflammatory language toward men, particularly in male-dominated professional fields. It also bears noting that Tinder in and of itself, while claiming to be woman-friendly, has in many cases led to male users harassing women with really disgusting, gendered language, and that Forbes recounts the app originally taking off at party schools — two of the three they listed (Arizona and USC) wound up on the Department of Education’s list of schools under investigation for Title IX violations this year. That bears noting because Tinder is part of a dating culture that’s predatory toward women, and it was Rad’s brainchild, which raises questions about Tinder’s corporate culture and women’s place in it.

But Rad distilled the problem thusly: “The lines got blurred, the boundaries should have been stronger.” Mateen and Wolfe were Rad and his girlfriend’s best friends. Working with your partner, and working with your friends, can be both enriching and educational, but work is work. To wit: Michael and I worked together briefly, and in a moment of poor judgment, when no one else was around, he smacked my ass. I immediately told him that no matter who he was, I wasn’t going to be sexualized in my workplace, and that if he did it again it would be against my principles not to tell his boss, and to please not force me to do that. I’ve worked with my friends, too; it became sticky, particularly when I was divorcing, because I worked with one of my best friends, who was dating my now-ex-husband’s best friend. There were conversations we just didn’t have at work. It was better for both of us to draw a hard line and leave that at the door.

Rad’s demotion (he’s being asked to stick around and focus on the product, because he’s great at that) is ultimately a cautionary tale. Rad didn’t stay a step ahead of IAC, and they put him in a position wherein he was demoteable — rather than being the independent CEO of a standalone Tinder, he became the CEO of Tinder under IAC’s ownership and therefore a paid employee of IAC. And having a too-chummy workplace was a mistake that cost Rad some points in terms of his public reputation. The moral of the story seems to be to make work, work. Being friendly with and personally supportive of your coworkers can make for a great workplace, so long as you can delineate where to draw an appropriate line on your willingness to share about your personal life, and your expectations of support from and toward your coworkers.


[Department of Education]

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