Powerful women running dating apps are portrayed as young and sexy

People are swiping on dating apps in record numbers and about half of those people identify as female, which may be why the dating app industry has recently given top leadership roles to women. .

Indeed, last year the world’s most powerful dating apps – Bumble and Tinder – were both run by women. Whitney Wolfe Herd is at Bumble while Renate Nyborg ran Tinder.

As researchers who write about dating apps like Bumble and dating and feminism, we were interested to see how journalists reported on these two women leading the highly lucrative, internet-dominated online dating industry. men and we wanted to compare this coverage with how CEOs portray themselves on social media.

We looked at the top 50 news from the last year for every woman who appeared in the search results. We found a sexist and condescending cover pattern. We’ve picked up often-repeated descriptors for female leaders and created three categories to describe them: ‘young mogul’, ‘feminist revenge’ and ‘sexy poster’.

We also did a Google Image search and looked at the top 100 results for each CEO to see how a Google search represented those leaders. What we’ve seen are visually distinct styles closely tied to each brand.

In contrast, we observed more diverse and interesting narratives about gender and leadership in women’s personal media spaces. These stories include notions of motherhood, inclusiveness and equity.

There appear to be significant tensions between new representations of women leaders in tech and how they represent themselves.

The Bumble Feeling

Both CEOs are portrayed in the news through the prism of sexism and sensationalism. In the case of Whitney Wolfe Herd, her youth and her scandalous past with Tinder are often highlighted.

Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra, right, with Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd at the Bumble launch party in New Delhi, India, in 2018.
(AP Photo/Pallav Paliwal)

Wolfe Herd launched feminist dating app Bumble in 2014, after quitting Tinder. She became the youngest self-made billionaire woman. She is also the youngest female CEO to take a company public in the United States.

Yet mainstream media and pop culture outlets focus on her controversial past with Tinder and the sex discrimination lawsuit she filed before quitting Tinder.

The language of competition, division and feminist reaction runs through many of these articles. Bumble is framed as part of its larger feminist agenda which seeks revenge on the tech brothers who dominate the dating app industry.

Renate Nyborg lets go on Tinder

Renate Nyborg’s rise to the top of Tinder in 2021 has been making headlines mostly in financial and business publications. Most stories point to her being Tinder’s first female CEO and being a “poster” for the company since meeting her husband on the app. An article in Fortune the magazine calls it “the ultimate testament to Tinder’s ability to create healthy, long-lasting relationships.”

Other stories reflect optimism about Nyborg’s potential to grow the app due to previous startup experience. Tinder positions itself as the brand, and most stories focus on Nyborg’s ability to drive the business forward.

Yet after less than a year, she was quietly released from her post in August and the impact of her brief reign in the tech industry was glossed over.

During her tenure, Tinder won numerous awards, including Best CEO for Diversity, and she was named one of the Most Innovative Companies of 2022 by fast company.

Given the importance of diversity and innovation in the tech industry, his dismissal is curious whether growth in these areas was a priority for the company. This may be related to the illusory nature of empowerment in various aspects of the dating app industry and Tinder’s lingering identity as a platform associated with hookups and misogyny.

Representations on social networks

Compared to limited and problematic portrayals of CEOs in the media, women are using more diverse and personalized notions of gender and leadership on their social media platforms.

Wolfe Herd showcases his identity as CEO of Bumble on his social media accounts, on Instagram in particular and Twitter less so. She also points to her role as a mother who runs a business that is central to her broader feminist mission.

Her narrative of female empowerment reminiscent of the “boss daughter” is widespread. It is built like the brand, with Bumble and its Philosophy “women take the first step” part of a larger feminist mission to revolutionize modern seduction.

Nyborg curates her leadership persona primarily on professional platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, and actively posts about leadership, tech blogging, and gender diversity. She also highlights her enthusiasm for running the business.

His social media accounts emphasize a broad framework of inclusivity to effect change. On her last day at Tinder, Nyborg shared a post on LinkedIn to highlight her accomplishments, focusing on improving the safety and inclusion of women at her former company.

fashion and color

Fashion and color are used strategically both in the stories and also in the way these women portray themselves as powerful female executives in important leadership roles.

Journalist Alexis Grenell, writing in The nation, suggests that we have been conditioned to visually associate executive power with male fashion, namely the suit and tie. She writes, “If we don’t notice how women are redefining what executive power looks like…it will remain de facto male.”

Bumble is synonymous with a sunny shade of yellow, which marks the company’s mark and is widely featured in Whitney Wolfe Herd publications. Herd uses imagery that projects a “wholesome, girl-next-door” vibe with light lipsticks and muted college-inspired clothing.

The Tinder flame logo is red, and this color dominates images of Renate Nyborg in the news and her own media reports. She usually wears bold red lipstick to match her red outfits, signaling her strength.

When it comes to matching fashion to corporate brands, the meanings associated with certain colors can have unintended consequences for leaders. While yellow can enhance Wolfe Herd’s personality through positive notions of happiness and creativity, associations with red could be interpreted as sexual and aggressive for Nyborg.

Company culture remains male-dominated

Nyborg’s departure from Tinder suggests it’s still difficult for women to retain high-level leadership positions in the tech industry, even when they’re CEOs.

Early reflections from media coverage show continued devaluation of women’s contributions to tech leadership

We need more stories about how women are challenging and changing the male-centric corporate culture.

About Jimmie P. Ricks

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