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HomeBiz TechFormer Uber Engineer Details Sexist Abuse In Workplace, Prompts CEO Travis Kalanick To Order Investigation

Former Uber Engineer Details Sexist Abuse In Workplace, Prompts CEO Travis Kalanick To Order Investigation

A former Uber engineer has published a lengthy blog post Sunday, alleging sexist workplace practices inside the company during her one-year stint, detailing, in almost 3,000 words, instances of sexism that she experienced firsthand.

Sexism At Uber

Sexism is one of the tentpole issues in the Silicon Valley workplace, and her accounts of it provide evidence of that, with stories often, if not always, worryingly pernicious, if also slightly bizarre.

The engineer, Susan Fowler, calls it a “strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story.” She joined the company late 2015 and left in December the following year to join Stripe. Her stint in Uber was bogged by a number of sexist incidents, the first of which happened on the first day.

Manager’s Understated Hookup Invitation

In her blog post, Fowler states that in as early as the first day on her job as an Uber engineer, her manager sent her a string of messages indicating that he was engaged in an open relationship — i.e., a setup that allows committed partners to seek different sex with third parties — but was unsuccessful in looking for partners to exercise that with. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work but couldn’t avoid it because he was attempting to get women he could hook up with, according to messages sent to Fowler.

“It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR,” writes Fowler.

The HR’s response, however, was unexpected, Fowler says. Though clearly an unambiguous account of sexual harassment, the HR said that they weren’t comfortable in handing down to the accused anything more than a warning, given that it was his first offense. Additionally, upper management informed Fowler that the man was a “high performer,” and they wouldn’t feel comfortable issuing him a reprimand for “what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part,” according to the HR, as per Fowler’s post.

Repeated Sexual Harassment Invariably Regarded As First Offense

Later on, when Fowler moved to a different team, she found out speaking to female colleagues that the manager in question had committed similar offenses in the past, and such reports have actually been brought to HR similarly.

Not long afterward, the manager was yet again reported for similar behaviors, but the HR told those who notified of his offenses that it was his “first offense” yet again.

Fowler notes that the reports were brought up as high as up the chain where it could be brought up, although “nothing was done.”

Engineers Engaging In Game Of Thrones-Esque War

Fowler’s stay at the company moving forward didn’t ease. Instances of sexist workplace accounts only turned bleaker. She writes that there was an underlying political jostling among upper management in the engineering department, saying the power struggle was akin to the HBO show Game of Thrones. According to Fowler, managers are unabashedly attempting to overthrow, undermine, and sabotage each other.

Fowler writes that every manager seemed predisposed to fighting and undermining their peers to get ahead, noting that the managers didn’t even hide this behavior, going as far as boasting about it during meetings, telling their direct reports about it, and such.

“We all lived under fear that our teams would be dissolved, there would be another re-org, and we’d have to start on yet another new project with an impossible deadline. It was an organization in complete, unrelenting chaos.”



Fowler’s account of her time at the company also includes attempts by her managers to hamper her growth, impair her accomplishments and opportunities, and more pressing attempts to stall her altogether. She writes that glowing workplace performance reviews were later messed with to justify holding her back for a potential promotion and prevent her from looking to be transferred to another part of the company.

In her many attempts to report repeated incidents of sexist abuse inside Uber, HR denied her protest for decent treatment, telling her that she was the “common theme” in all her complaints and that reporting things to HR using email was “unprofessional.” Telling women not to complain, or suppress their urge to complain, is one of the hallmark signs of sexist organizations, as noted by The Verge.

No Leather Jackets For Women

In an odd part of the series of accounts, Fowler describes how a manager ordered leather jackets for all site reliability engineers except women because there were not enough of them to make up for the expense of purchasing the jackets. Fowler says that over 120 men got their jackets and that according to the manager, it wouldn’t be fair to order jackets for women unless they found a way to receive a bulk discount.

Travis Kalanick Orders Urgent Investigation

Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, has ordered an urgent investigation in light of Fowler’s blog post.

“What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in,” he said, as reported by CNBC. Kalanick says that this is the first time he has learned of such accounts and that he instructed Uber’s new HR chief to conduct the investigation.

“We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber — and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.”

Fowler wrote that when she joined Uber, 25 percent of the company was comprised of women. When she left, it was down to 3 percent.

Upon publication, Fowler’s blog post quickly gained traction online, even reaching Chris Sacca, an early Uber investor, who called Fowler’s account of sexist incidents “awful.”

“This is awful. I’m very sorry it happened to you. I can’t imagine how that must have felt and still feels now,” said Sacca.

“Well, as you might have read, I have zero say in how that company is run. Frustrating,” Sacca said when asked what Uber and its investors can do moving forward.

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(Via TechTimes)