Alejandra Luaces had only worked at Mailchimp for four months when she got a surprising anonymous email. “Oliver* is in an open marriage and is fair game,” the message read, referring to a senior engineering manager. “Serena* also knows so you can ask her to confirm.”
Luaces was not interested in Oliver. She certainly wasn’t interested in asking a female employee about his marriage. As a product operations manager — and one of the few Latinx women in the engineering org — Luaces was determined to succeed at one of the most prestigious tech companies in Atlanta, according to sources close to the situation.
The events were confirmed by three former employees as well as internal documents reviewed by The Verge.
In June 2016, one month after the anonymous email, Luaces and Oliver went to a diversity conference together in New York City. Luaces’ department was going through a reorg, and she was interested in a position on his team. Oliver seemed open to it, even suggesting that he’d speak to the engineering director on her behalf. But he also became increasingly flirtatious, allegedly sending Luaces late-night texts hinting that he wanted to have sex.
“The level of toxic masculinity and sexism was unlike anything I experienced in 10+ years in the tech industry”
After they returned to Atlanta, Oliver sent her a message saying he’d thought they were going to hook up on the trip. Luaces responded that she didn’t think it was a good idea. Shortly after, the offer to move to his team seemingly evaporated. Luaces’ role was being eliminated in the reorg, and she was told she could either take a lower-level position or leave the company.
In the offer letter for the new role, Mailchimp managers told Luaces that she would not be eligible for a pay raise for “at least the next year, and maybe a few years.” The letter also said that while Luaces was a hard worker, “the perception is that you will fill your time with non-work related activities if your task list is not full.”
Offer letter Mailchimp sent to Alejandra Luaces for an internal transfer.
Luaces’ experience at Mailchimp is now roughly three years old. If her complaint was an isolated incident, there probably wouldn’t be a story. But according to 11 current and former employees, Mailchimp has continued to struggle with instances of sexism, bias, and perceived pay disparities since Luaces left in 2018.
Employees say the company’s position as one of the premier startups in Atlanta allows it to view workers as disposable, as there are fewer tech jobs to choose from than if the company were located in San Francisco or New York City. They also say that because the organization is private and has never taken on outside investment, executives can operate without the specter of more public accountability. Many feel they’ve exhausted every option internally and are only speaking to the press as a last resort.
In a statement emailed to The Verge, a Mailchimp spokesperson said: “We’ve always wanted Mailchimp to be a place where everyone feels included, respected, and empowered to do their best work. But that hasn’t been the experience for all of our employees. Over the past four years we’ve doubled in size, and while we worked hard to foster an inclusive culture as we grew, we fell short in some important areas.” The company declined to comment on The Verge’s questions about individual personnel matters.
Stories about Mailchimp’s company culture began circulating on February 17th, 2021, after a principal engineer, Kelly Ellis, posted a viral tweet thread about her decision to leave. She said she’d dealt with “sexism and bullying” and was underpaid compared to male colleagues. (Ellis did not respond to a request for comment from The Verge.)
Welp, I guess it’s official: I’m leaving my job. I dealt with sexism and bullying, and found out that I, as the only female principal eng, was paid less than the other (male) principals outside of Atlanta. I would not recommend friends work at Mailchimp, especially women.
— Kelly Ellis (@justkelly_ok) February 17, 2021