Remember that Vanity Fair “hit piece” on Gwyneth Paltrow that was supposed to come out and never did and then they said it was never even in the works? GP’s radar was off with that one and I wonder if she had a heads up on this new piece for Insider, “Inside Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop: An exec exodus, complaints of low salaries, and pandemic burnout.” Journalists Madeline Berg and JP Mangalindan got former staffers to speak on the record (with their identities protected) and it’s not all vagina candles and rainbows over at Goop HQ.
To be clear, Gwyneth is not being accused of dirty behaviour. She did not throw a potato at anyone’s head. Employees are not told to avoid eye contact with her. This is not one of those (very familiar) workplace stories. But she is described as having “favourites,” which is not surprising. Many people who’ve worked for a company with a charismatic leader can recognize this kind of “shiny penny” behaviour, which is when a leader focuses on one person, making them their right hand, relying on them, praising them, confiding in them to the exclusion of others. Then, when that person does something “wrong” (like take a vacation at a busy time or try to negotiate a raise), the relationship suddenly cools. And the leader is on to the next shiny penny.
This can be a distracting and disorienting kind of leadership because if one person is a favourite, you’ve created a group of people who feel lesser-than. Those people then commiserate about their status and that can hurt morale, a lot. This domino effect may not at all be purposeful (sometimes bosses genuinely connect better with certain employees) but in the case of Goop staff, it was noticed and clearly led to some hurt feelings.
The article also reports on a consistent level of burnout amongst employees and a mass exodus of 140 staff including the bulk of the executive team (CCO Elise Loehnen, CFO Erica Moore, CTO Juan Paul Ramirez, CRO Kimberly Kreuzberger, General Counsel Virginia Llewellyn, EIC Danielle Pergament) that leaves a power vacuum. Are junior people (with junior pay) being thrown into senior roles? Are executives not being replaced, which means their workload is foisted on another person, leading to more burnout? And why are so many of them leaving?
(As the article points out, much of the executive turnout pre-dated COVID but no doubt that Goop’s ecommerce was greatly affected by the pandemic and obviously their in-person events had to be completely reworked and are only now getting back to normal.)
The Great Resignation (as it is referred to by staff who spoke to Insider) is a symptom of the culture. Employees who spoke to Insider say they are tired, overworked, and underpaid at a place where they are supposed to be leading the conversation about how woman can optimize their health and mental wellness.
What these employees are bumping up against is the whole issue with the white woman wellness movement and what many have been calling sites like Goop out on for years: it’s for a select few, not all. No matter how much they try to say that “anyone can chew a vitamin!” or “anyone can take a walk,” everything is tied to time and money. It’s exclusionary without having to say it’s exclusionary – and it seems that has trickled down to staff.
Low pay is the most important part of the story because money creates space for the kind of self care Goop advocates for. But it doesn’t pay well because, like many media companies, it doesn’t have to: it is built on attracting people come from financially privileged backgrounds (family money and/or spouses who make the bulk of the family income). Vogue has operated like this for years, as have many other prestigious jobs in fashion, women’s media, and lifestyle brands. These kinds of jobs are usually heavily perked (with fancy event invitations and free products) but require long, demanding hours for little monetary reward.
If you are one of a few who doesn’t come from money, it’s very confusing because no one admits it! So you can work beside someone who makes the same salary as you but they drive a $100,000 car or are regularly buying $2000 shoes but it’s never spoken about because it’s considered tacky. But how many of us started in media alongside another intern who was wearing a Cartier bracelet and Prada loafers and thought, “How????”
Attracting “I don’t need to work, I want to” people is baked into the system and there’s a reason “a million girls would kill for this job” was a foundation of The Devil Wears Prada: it is true. That is the trick of it; even people who the system is not built for still want to be part of it and will try their hardest – working themselves to burnout – to “prove” themselves and impress their boss. (Goop also films a Netflix show with its staffers. Are they paid extra to be on camera? How does that deal work?)
No doubt that if a job was posted tomorrow, it would receive dozens (or hundreds) of applications from those who want to be there, until they realize that a taco truck at lunch doesn’t pay the rent or a staff discount on clothes is not really saving them money when their paycheque still can’t cover a sweater.
Neither the company nor GP have yet to respond, but this could be the beginning of an even larger story as former employees who feel used by their experience will now speak out. (Did they sign an NDA? That would be a bit ironic for a site that’s supposed to advocate for women.) For the next week or so, the headlines around this article (which is behind a paywall) will paint GP as a clueless leader and a bit cheap. In that way, she’s pretty on par for a “disruptive” CEO.