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 Fortunefollowed, 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 resume 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 corporate America, 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 work place.”
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 historic discrimination against women,” says Andrew Elmore, a University of Miami law professor who specializes 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. If a recruiter were to use the app and only consider women for the position, that could be a violation of Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.
“An employer is free to recruit from underrepresented populations to ensure that the broadest array of candidates have access to employment opportunities at the firm or company, but it may not discriminate because of sex,” Elmore says.
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 state and local laws that prohibit discrimination against sex and gender identity, which opened it up for an investigation by the New York City Commission on Human Rights. The same rules apply for hotels and restaurants, though they vary by state. For example, offering “Ladies’ Night” discounts to women on entrance fees or drinks is illegal in California and three other states on the basis of gender discrimination.
The Wing’s membership policy has since been altered to be inclusive of all genders, including trans and non-binary members. “While The Wing will always be a space designed for women with a women’s-focused mission, you may see folks at The Wing who express their gender in a variety of ways,” the Wing co-founders wrote in a letter to its members announcing the new policy.
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.