27 September 2023

A Buzz over nothing: Why Bumble Bizz is not a tool for discrimination

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Dami Lee* says that despite the outcry, the Bumble app’s new women-only networking feature is not a job discrimination tool.

Bumble recently added a filter to its professional networking mode, Bumble Bizz, to give women the option to only match with other women.

The immediate response — mainly from men’s rights pages — was, “Isn’t this illegal?”

Part of the outrage stems from the first article written about the feature, from CNBC, with a headline that said the tool “lets recruiters exclude men.”

Another headline, from Fortune, followed, calling it a “‘Women Only’ Job Hunting Tool.”

What the headlines, and subsequently men’s rights forums, get wrong is that Bizz isn’t meant to be used as a recruiting tool — just a networking feature.

And even if it was, it wouldn’t necessarily run afoul of discrimination laws.

Bumble Bizz first launched in 2017 as a separate mode within the dating app, allowing women and men to list their résumé and skills.

Comparisons were made to LinkedIn, but Bumble said that Bizz was designed for “networking and mentoring, not job searching or recruiting.”

Citing a recent McKinsey study, which showed that women remain underrepresented at every level of the workplace, Bumble said that the new, opt-in, women-only filter is meant to help women “foster each others’ development and ask for the time they may not be getting in the workplace.”

Despite Bumble’s intentions, it’s true that the filter could be misused in ways that could be illegal and discriminatory.

Women looking for other women to make professional connections with or find mentors doesn’t pose a legal problem, but if employers are looking to use Bumble Bizz to hire candidates, they should be thoughtful in how they use the filter.

“Many companies justifiably want to improve the representation of women in their workplaces to remedy historical discrimination against women,” says Andrew Elmore, a University of Miami law professor who specialises in employment law.

“So recruitment of women from social networking sites can be a lawful, and important, way to ensure that a broad array of candidates have access to employment opportunities.”

Recruiters could use the filter as a tool for finding candidates, but they can’t use it to discriminate against or rule out men from a position.

Bumble Bizz’s women-only filter isn’t likely to go down the path of The Wing, a similarly well-intentioned women-only co-working space that was forced to change its policies after a gender discrimination lawsuit.

For starters, it’s up for debate whether social networking apps like Bumble can be classified as a public accommodation, which are subject to anti-discrimination laws.

The Wing, being a physical structure that charges members for use of its space, is subject to laws that prohibit discrimination against sex and gender identity.

The Wing’s membership policy has since been altered to be inclusive of all genders, including trans and non-binary members.

Bumble declined to comment on legal issues around using its tool for recruitment, but said that the women-only filter was driven by the demand of women using Bumble Bizz.

The company prides itself on listening to its users, but the app doesn’t yet let users identify as anything other than a “man” or a “woman” in its gender settings.

If there’s any criticism to be directed toward the app, it should be about rectifying this, not changing the filter.

* Dami Lee is a reporter for The Verge. She tweets at @dami_lee.

This article first appeared at www.theverge.com.

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