Uber to investigate female engineer’s ‘abhorrent’ sexual harassment claims

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If you are a woman then working at Uber sounds like hell, based upon allegations made by Susan Fowler. She worked as a site reliability engineer at Uber from Nov. 2015 to Dec. 2016; now that she works at Stripe, she has come forward with a sickening tale of sexual harassment, discrimination and an HR department that just let it happen.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick ordered an “urgent investigation” into Fowler’s harassment and discrimination complaints, promising to fire the people who believe the disgusting behavior is permissible at Uber.

On her very first day working with a team, Fowler said, “My new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with.”

She took screenshots of the messages and headed to HR armed with proof of sexual harassment. Yet she was told that “even though this was clearly sexual harassment,” it was his “first offense,” so “they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to.”

Then she was given a “choice” – transfer to a different team, or stay on the same team with the dude propositioning her. If she stayed, she was told to expect him to give her a “poor performance review.” Fowler added, “One HR rep even explicitly told me that it wouldn’t be retaliation if I received a negative review later because I had been ‘given an option’.”

Fowler later learned that the same manager had pulled the same sexual harassment tricks with other women, “all of whom were allegedly told it was his ‘first offense’.”

She goes on to describe a “game-of-thrones political war raging” and how the company was “in complete, unrelenting chaos.” The number of women engineers working at Uber continued to drop.

Although eligible for a transfer and having perfect performance scores, her transfer was denied based on “undocumented performance problems;” she was eventually told that “performance problems aren’t always something that has to do with work, but sometimes can be about things outside of work or your personal life.”

As time passed, fewer women stayed at Uber; one director’s reply for what could be done about it was that women working at Uber “needed to step up and be better engineers.”

Another example of discrimination came when Uber ordered leather jackets for 120 men, but none for women since there were only six still working there. If the women wanted one, then they would need “to find jackets that were the same price as the bulk-order price of the men’s jackets.”

Throughout all of this, she continued to turn in “proof” to HR, such as emails and screenshots. Eventually an HR rep suggested that Fowler was “the common theme” in all the reports she filed with HR. But those reports? Yeah, well HR had no records of any of the incidents she reported! Good thing Fowler still had all the documented proof, not that it did her any good. Then the HR lady wanted to know what chat rooms and email addresses the female engineers used.

A week later, Fowler’s manager said she was on “very thin ice” for reporting his manager to HR and that she could be fired for it; he said the firing would not be illegal. She then reported that to HR and the CTO, but nothing was done because the manager was a “high performer.”

She finally left Uber and took a different job.

Fowler’s story sparked intense discussions about sexual harassment of women in tech at Uber as well as other workplaces.

After reading about her time at Uber, CEO Travis Kalanick ordered an investigation into the harassment and discrimination complaints which he called “abhorrent and against everything we believe in.”

Travis Kalanick

Travis Kalanick

Uber board member Arianna Huffington announced her intention “to conduct a full independent investigation;” it’s a move that Kalanick said he supports. If HR can’t find the documentation, then I hope Fowler supplies it to those investigating so the guilty will be fired.

Please take the time to read Fowler’s recounting of her time at Uber. As Kara Swisher pointed out, “Her appalling experience is all too common throughout tech.”

This article was written by Darlene Storm from Computerworld and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.