In December of last year, Vishal Garg, CEO of Better.com, made a name for himself as one of the worst bosses of the year by laying off 900 employees through a Zoom meeting. However, that was just the end of a history of keeping employees unhappy.
Two years before that episode, much of Better’s workers spoke by phone with two women at a small startup in Brooklyn, New York, about the problems with Garg.
Those women were Ariella Steinhorn and Amber Scorah, and that startup was Lioness, a platform where employees can tell their “encounters with power” stories through essays. It also has a vast network of savvy internet workers who share tips and advice on how to take workplace stories and get them out into the open without going to traditional journalists.
For that reason, Steinhorn and Scorah knew how miserable Better’s workers were even before the pandemic started.
Steinhorn started Lioness in 2019, when he was working as a communications manager for the electric scooter company Spin. She had a side business at the time called Simone (forerunner of Lioness), which connected people who were being bullied in their workplace with legal resources, just like Lioness does today.
In late 2019, motivated by the need he saw through his business, Steinhorn left Spin to launch Lioness and work on the project full-time and solo. This fast became too demanding for a single person and when Steinhorn looked for someone to collaborate with her, she met Scorah on LinkedIn. She was making a name for herself as an advocate for parental leave policies and as a writer with a personal and painful story behind her: Her son passed away on his first day of daycare, after he was forced to return to work.
Following that unfortunate episode, Scorah wrote an essay for The New York Times about her loss, and her story along with her advocacy for better leave policies resonated with other mothers. When she began to find her place as a writer, recognizing the power of sharing her own loss, and she met Steinhorn. The two Brooklyn women saw in the other the power of telling one’s own story when it comes to a social problem.
With very little advertising and no search engine optimization (their website is hard to find on Google), Steinhorn and Scorah have built a reputation by word of mouth that brings a few people each week to Lioness to seek support with a problem. at work, including at least 20 female employees who accused Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith of creating a sexist and discriminatory culture that stifled innovation and growth.
“Many of the stories that Lioness brings to the public are stories that have previously been repressed for money, nondisclosure agreements and threats,” which include cases of “corruption, sexual abuse and harassment, cover-ups, fraud, resilience and redemption,” from according to your website. However, they have also started collecting stories about financial fraud, white collar crime, and unethical or manipulative business practices.
“Yesterday, we heard from five or six lonely people who needed help. They all got off a carpentry job on January 3, ”Steinhorn said. “We have spoken, of course, with tech employees, internists, gold miners, urologists, real estate agents. Yesterday I spoke with someone who works in the film industry on sound mixing, “he added.
According to Steinhorn, “There is a high correlation between whether employees are being grossly abused and financial fraud in an organization. If you have someone who is hurting a lot of people through bullying, that can carry over to other areas of the company. There are definitely patterns that we see in terms of employment practices and financial practices. There are ways in which people configure things to minimize liability in any practice. “
For every person who has a story to tell, Scorah and Steinhorn will spend weeks, or even months, helping them craft a narrative that they believe is objectively accurate and emotionally truthful for the essayist. They operate as the opinion department of a major news organization, except here they provide their sources with legal connections to major law firms.
They also won’t encourage someone to write a public story unless they are fully prepared for the consequences of media attention, and they won’t post anything unless they have verified everyone’s claims. Scorah and Steinhorn also often talk to multiple people in a company (as in the case of the Blue Origin and SpaceX trials), even if only one person’s story ends up posted online.
According to Delphine Halgand-Mishra, founder and CEO of a whistleblower support organization called The Signals Network, coordinated media, strategy and legal teams for tech whistleblowers began to emerge in the later years of the Obama administration (remember Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning).
Also, prominent whistleblowers such as former Facebook employee Frances Haugen and former Pinterest employee Ifeoma Ozoma have made a point of having a coordinated media and legal strategy in the tech industry, Halgand-Mishra said.
Lioness is one of the newest entrants in the growing whistleblower support space. However, while most organizations like The Signals Network fund themselves through grants on a non-profit model, Lioness does so primarily through paid partnerships with law firms. Law firms pay Lioness as a partner, and Lioness refers clients to their attorneys for assistance and free legal advice when needed. Lioness has received venture capital offers, but Steinhorn and Scorah have turned down the investments because they want full control over their work.
Still, they’re not immune from trying to make money in anticipation of an emerging tech area: They minted an NFT (non-fungible token) for an artwork attached to a platform trial as a source of experimental funding, and now they accept donations. in cryptocurrencies. “Whoever buys the NFT, we don’t necessarily know who they are. They have no control over us, ”Steinhorn said. “There is so much money going around in that ecosystem that, if someone were to buy it, it could be a source of income for us that does not generate a conflict.”
Lioness also explores documentary film projects – which tend to be more lucrative avenues than stories written for companies in the media industry – as they plan to continue listening to and posting stories of employees who need to speak out.