In the past two years, as competition in the online recruiting market has heated up, social media companies of all stripes have gotten into the hiring and professional networking game, including online dating platforms. Last April, the dating site eHarmony launched a job search website based on the company’s matchmaking algorithms, as part of a broader trend of these platforms expanding their business into targeted advertising, branding, and other ways to leverage their value as social networks.
Whitney Wolfe, the 28-year-old founder and CEO of Bumble, launched her company in 2014 as a response to the problematic gender dynamics of the online dating space, where women in particular are often subject to sexual harassment, abuse, and unwanted attention. The premise of Bumble is that users of both sexes can swipe through profiles and express interest in those users they would like to meet, but only women are allowed to initiate a conversation, and anyone using the network for abuse or harassment is promptly blocked and banned.
Fast Company‘s Karen Valby takes a look at Bumble’s newest offering, BumbleBizz, which will debut in October and offer a similarly women-centered approach to professional networking:
The concept of Bizz is a relatively easy sell for current users: Set up a discrete profile for networking, all while continuing under the principle that anyone can match, but women alone can initiate contact. Unlike many other professional and social networks, which exist to connect you to people you know, Bizz’s mission is to introduce you to new contacts, with added protections like verified profiles. One key to Bizz’s success will be drawing a new demographic of users into Bumble’s ecosystem. The challenge, says Bumble’s director of marketing, Chelsea Cain Maclin, is convincing “someone like my mother, who is married and has three kids and now wants to get back into healthcare work, that we have something to offer her.” …
Wolfe believes that Bumble’s mission of empowerment will be as appealing in the professional realm as it is in the personal. “We have women already reaching out saying they’re getting [unwanted solicitations] on LinkedIn, that they need a professional network where they make the first move,” says Wolfe.
BumbleBizz is partly a response to the surprisingly high number of unwanted sexual messages women receive on professional networking platforms like LinkedIn. A lawsuit filed in June aims to hold a company responsible for one of its employees using LinkedIn to send inappropriate messages and graphic images in an attempt to sexually proposition a woman at another company. This kind of behavior is a clear violation of LinkedIn’s terms of service and the company says it takes sexual harassment complaints seriously, but some women have already been driven away from the platform by the suggestive messages they received there. Those women are the primary target user base for BumbleBizz
The importance of maintaining a firm line between professional networking and romantic pursuits is why many HR professionals cringe at apps like Feeld, which turns the workplace collaboration and communication program Slack into a matchmaking service. Whether or not organizations are legally liable for their employees’ behavior on LinkedIn, it can still reflect poorly on a company when an employee uses their professional profile to harass or proposition others. As more organizations recognize the business value of gender diversity and look for ways to make their workplaces more welcoming toward women, it’s worth remembering that the digital environment of professional social media is increasingly part of that space as well.