Leadership, Startup News

Away chief Steph Korey steps down, then back up weeks later, after Slack-based bullying claims

Priscilla Pho /

Co-founder and chief executive of Away Steph Korey

Co-founder and co-chief executive of Away, Steph Korey. Source: Facebook.

Just one month after being accused of bullying employees, Steph Korey, co-founder of US luggage startup Away, is reversing her decision to step down from her role as chief executive of the company.

Korey stepped down as chief executive in early December and revealed plans to take on the position of executive chair, following accusations from former employees that she was responsible for “extensive and relentless” bullying and creating a toxic work culture over workplace communication platform Slack.

Employees were reportedly instructed not to communicate internally via email or private Slack channels for anything business-related. Instead, public Slack channels were used in an effort to promote transparency.

However, former employees said the policy felt more like surveillance, and Korey was allegedly abusive to junior and minority employees on the platform. After she discovered a private Slack channel between employees expressing discomfort over her behaviour, she reportedly fired six employees.

The expose went viral, and Korey issued a public statement of regret on Twitter, announcing her intentions to step down from her position.

At the time, the popular luggage brand was worth over $US1 billion ($1.45 billion) and on the verge of going public. Former Lululemon Athletica’s chief operations officer Stuart Haselden had also been hired before the allegations became public and was due to take over the chief executive position.

Yesterday, just one week before Haselden’s first day on the job, Away announced Korey will in fact be sharing the position with Haselden as co-chief executive, and will not serve as the company’s executive chair.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Korey called last year’s article in The Verge “inaccurate reporting” and said it has caused her emotional distress over the last month.

Korey is supported by Away’s leadership, who have hired defamation lawyer Elizabeth M. Locke, and Haselden, who said Korey’s initial decision to step down was “very selfless in trying to defuse the firestorm of social media”.

The members of the board pointed to the massive backlash from Twitter users for forcing their hands in removing Korey from her position, with investing venture capital firm Global Founders Capital confirming there was no pressure from investors for Korey to step down in December.

“I honestly thought that people didn’t care that much about the inner workings of Away,” Korey said.

“When I think back on ways I’ve phrased feedback, there have been times where the word choice isn’t as thoughtful as it should have been, or the way it was framed actually wasn’t as constructive as it could have been.

“Those are not, in the eyes of our leadership and the eyes of our board, terminal, unsolvable problems,” she added.

NOW READ: What’s the cure for a toxic work culture?

NOW READ: A ‘Sundar moment’: Why you should step down as chief executive of your business

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Priscilla Pho

Priscilla is a reporter at SmartCompany. You can contact her at [email protected].