Steph Korey, the co-CEO of luggage company Away, will be stepping down from her role within the year, co-founder Jen Rubio and co-CEO Stuart Haselden told staff today, after employees voiced concern over Korey’s recent social media behavior.
“Steph’s personal social media activity does not reflect the current priorities of the company,” Rubio and Haselden wrote. “We stand with you, our employees.”
The news follows Korey leaving the CEO post last year, and returning as co-CEO in early January.
Korey initially stepped down following an investigation by The Verge in December of 2019, which highlighted employee concerns over Korey’s management style. Employees on the customer experience team felt particularly overworked and undervalued, and took issue with the way Korey spoke to them. In one colorful anecdote, Korey told a group of customer experience employees she was going to stop approving their paid time off and work from home requests, to teach them the “skill of accountability.”
After The Verge’s piece published in December, Korey stepped down as CEO, saying she was sincerely sorry for what she’d said, and adding: “I can imagine how people felt reading those messages from the past, because I was appalled to read them myself.” But she came back as co-CEO in January, telling the New York Times it was a “mistake to fall on her sword.”
Earlier this week, Korey posted a series of Instagram stories about the media. “Several of these digital only outlets have nearly non-existent editorial standards,” she wrote. “…I could write a whole separate essay about how defamation lawsuits should be made easier to pursue now that misrepresentation is the business model.”
The posts rankled some workers, who found that her decision to write about the media in the midst of her maternity leave, rather than Black Lives Matter or Pride, reflected poorly on the brand. “Why is this the moment she chose to be present and speak up?” they asked. “It’s becoming very clear that it’s because Steph Korey values her own reputation over the wellbeing of the company and her employees.”
Employees shared these sentiments in an anonymous letter to Rubio and Haselden. While Rubio and Haselden have been running the company in Korey’s absence, employees voiced concern about what will happen when she returns. “Her own actions (including deleting the only apology she ever made following The Verge article) prove that she has not learned or grown from the December incident,” they wrote. “Now more than ever we need compassionate and empathetic leaders who care about the company and its employees. Based on her recent activity, we are anxious and worried about what life at Away will be like when she returns.”
On Thursday, Rubio and Haselden responded to the letter. “Steph’s posts do not reflect or affect our current company priorities and the deep work we’re doing around diversity, equity, and inclusion,” they wrote. “We hear you that these posts, coming from a co-CEO, distract from our focus as a company, and we are sorry that this has caused pain for some of our employees and placed unnecessary negativity and pressure on our community-facing teams. We especially recognize the added emotional burden on our Black, POC, and LGBTQIA+ teammates.”
They also told employees that Haselden would be taking over as sole CEO in 2020 — a timeline that had not previously been public.
Korey followed up with her own note in Slack. She did not apologize for her posts, though she said that how female founders are being covered in the media is “far from being the most important issue” on her mind.
One current employee who has been with the company for years told The Verge: “There is a common feeling that she got off easy in December […] without having to take accountability. If she doesn’t address these issues directly, people will be pissed.”
The Verge has reached out to Away for comment; this story will be updated when the company responds.
The full letter from Haselden and Rubio to Away staff is below:
This note is clearly from people who care about the company and we want to thank you for your courage in sharing your thoughts.
Steph’s posts do not reflect or affect our current company priorities and the deep work we’re doing around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We hear you that these posts, coming from a co-CEO, distract from our focus as a company, and we are sorry that this has caused pain for some of our employees and placed unnecessary negativity and pressure on our community-facing teams. We especially recognize the added emotional burden on our Black, POC, and LGBTQIA+ teammates. There is nothing we are doing that is more important right now than building and executing our DEI plan to become an anti-racist company.
We want to let you know we can create whatever safe space you need to come forward and speak, in person, with any member of leadership or the People & Culture team. Of course, we also respect your wish to remain anonymous—we hear you and appreciate you.
In response to your asks:
1. We want to emphatically state: We stand with you, our employees. Steph’s personal social media activity does not reflect the current priorities of the company.
2. Steph will return from maternity leave in August, and will be contributing to the company in the same capacity as before maternity leave. Stuart will take on the role of sole CEO, which will occur on the original timeline (within 2020).
3. Steph has updated her Twitter and Instagram profiles to state that her views are her own.
Again, thank you for sending this note—we know the fortitude it took to write and we want to reiterate our commitment to create a safe space for you to share your concerns. We promise to continue to work to make Away a great place to work for everyone.
Jen and Stuart