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A former Uber engineer took to her blog on Sunday to post a nearly 3,000-word account of her time at the company, alleging several instances of sexism that she says she experienced firsthand.
Calling it a “strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story,” Susan Fowler, who joined Uber as an engineer in November 2015 and left the company in December 2016 to join Stripe, says her year at the company was marred by sexist incidents from her first official day on the job.
“In my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat,” Fowler wrote. “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. 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.”
She wrote that the response was not what she expected: “When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he ‘was a high performer’ (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.”
Fowler says she then joined another team and later found out from her female co-workers that the manager she had reported had actually been reported to HR in the past. “Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his ‘first offense,'” she recalled. “The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.”
Fowler went on to describe a “game-of-thrones political war” among upper management in the engineering division.
“It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor’s job,” she wrote. “No attempts were made by these managers to hide what they were doing: they boasted about it in meetings, told their direct reports about it, and the like. I remember countless meetings with my managers and skip-levels where I would sit there, not saying anything, and the manager would be boasting about finding favor with their skip-level and that I should expect them to have their manager’s job within a quarter or two.”
As a result, Fowler wrote, projects went unfinished, priorities were unclear and “very little every got done.” She called it as “complete, unrelenting chaos.”
Fowler added that she tried to transfer to another engineering team but was repeatedly blocked, being told that her performance reviews were not acceptable. Yet, Fowler wrote, she later received a “great review with no complaints whatsoever about my performance” and was still denied a transfer.
“It turned out that keeping me on the team made my manager look good, and I overheard [my manager] boasting to the rest of the team that even though the rest of the teams were losing their women engineers left and right, he still had some on his team,” Fowler wrote.
She also detailed an incident involving leather jackets being promised to all site reliability engineers, who had had their measurements taken earlier in the year. Later on, all the women left in that group — which she believed amounted to six — were sent an email saying they would not be receiving said jackets because “there were not enough women in the organization to justify placing an order.” Because of the number of men in the group, the company had gotten a discount on their jackets, and a manager told Fowler that “it wouldn’t be equal or fair, he argued, to give the women leather jackets that cost a little more than the men’s jackets” unless the women found jackets that were the same price as the men’s discounted jackets.
Fowler also wrote that when she joined Uber, the organization was comprised of 25 percent women; when she left, it was down to 3 percent out of 150 total engineers.
On Sunday night, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said he has ordered an “urgent investigation” into the matter.
“I have just read Susan Fowler’s blog,” the exec said in a statement. “What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in. It’s the first time this has come to my attention, so I have instructed Liane Hornsey, our new Chief Human Resources Officer, to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations. We seek to make Uber a just workplace FOR EVERYONE 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.”
After Fowler posted her story, #DeleteUber began trending on Twitter. Actress Felicia Day used the hashtag in a tweet, writing: ” Gross. Gross gross gross.”
Wrote Jason Calacanis, an investor in Uber, on Twitter: “Just became aware of
@susanthesquark‘s blog post & what she describes is obviously not acceptable. Trust management will take swift action.”
It’s not the first time the hashtag has popped up. In January, stars began spreading the hashtag after Lyft pledged to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union in response to President Donald Trump’s immigration ban — spurring many in Hollywood to abandon rival Uber, perceiving its own response incomparable to Lyft’s actions.
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