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Former Engineer Says Uber Is a Nightmare of Sexism; CEO Orders Urgent Investigation (susanjfowler.com) 917

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Verge: A former Uber engineer has published an explosive account of sexism and power struggles in the workplace, with allegations beginning from her very first official day with the company. The engineer, Susan Fowler (who left Uber in December and now works for Stripe), posted the account to her blog on Sunday, calling it a "strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story." It is indeed horrifying. Sexism is a well-documented problem in Silicon Valley, but the particulars of Fowler's account are astounding. She says problems began on day one, when her manager accosted her with details of his sex life: "In my first official day rotating on the team, 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. 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. 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. The things only get worse for Fowler. Read the full account of her story here. In the meanwhile, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said the company would "conduct an urgent investigation" into the allegations, and promised to fire anyone who "behaves this way or thinks this is OK."

Journalist Paul Carr summing up the situation, says, "Uber's ability to be on the wrong side of every moral and ethical issue is bordering on magical."
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Former Engineer Says Uber Is a Nightmare of Sexism; CEO Orders Urgent Investigation

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  • I'm not surprised. (Score:5, Informative)

    by generic_screenname ( 2927777 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @10:11AM (#53899587)
    As much as Slashdot likes to believe that sexism is imaginary, this behavior is pretty common in tech. Frankly, I've seen worse.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 20, 2017 @10:18AM (#53899617)

      As much as Slashdot likes to believe that sexism is imaginary, this behavior is pretty common in tech. Frankly, I've seen worse.

      OK, so you start with the strawman that "Slashdot," whoever that is, likes to believe that sexism is imaginary. But, then you say you've seen worse? I'm a software engineer in the auto industry, and I have never seen anything like what she describes. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. But, if you've seen worse, you have worked in some horrific work environments.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 20, 2017 @10:31AM (#53899697)

        Maybe you don't see it since you are not the target of it.

        • Yep - racism (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I'm white. Behind the black guy's back, the shit I hear. I even had a supervisor try to get me to blame a bad defect on him - that I caused. I couldn't do it. I couldn't live with myself and in a World where a smart hard working guy gets blamed for shit he didn't do just because he was born with a certain skin color in the wrong society.

          The fucker knew he was doing wrong too. And what could I really do? Bitch to HR? Remember folks, HR works FOR management. Remember that. They are NOT your friends and they a

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @11:37AM (#53900133) Homepage Journal

      Let me ask you a simple question. Ignoring the sexism, which doesn't apply to you, read her description of the corporate culture and tell me: does this sound like a place you'd like to work?

      It isn't just sexism, she describes a generally toxic work culture in which all kinds of problems can arise and persist. It's one where managers are focused on competing with each other, even to the point of undermining their supervisors; you might let a problem ride for a bit because you might need to use it against them later.

      Now granted, this might not be a fair description of Uber's culture. Or her perceptions might be colored by what was a string of bad luck. But we all know places that shade this way exist. The problem of a organizations that are at the same time bureaucratic and cutthroat go way back. What she describes could be the politics of an old-time royal court.

      Why? Why does this kind of culture crop up again and again in human history?

      I think because ruthless internal competition offsets some of the natural lethargy of a bureaucracy. It can serve the interests of whoever is on top, at least in the short term. If you have no talent for inspiring people you can at least set them against each other. But you'd be a fool to join such an organization at the bottom, knowing what it is, if you had any alternatives.

  • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @11:22AM (#53900015) Journal

    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.

    No fucking way. This has got to be some kind of alt-right/4chan/cuck joke parody, right? Woman convinces beta male to have "open relationship" so she can fuck alphas on the side, SHOCKING beta with no game can't score, harasses actually capable women and helps ruin otherwise successful company.

    "Sluts and cucks ruin everything for everyone." This has to be a joke, right?

  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @11:23AM (#53900025)

    Note that sexism was a *small* part of the situation described. What amazes me was the continued desire to work for a company because of the 'great engineers'.

    The reality is you can find a *good* company that also has great engineers. Other companies also face interesting challenges that are worthy of your time. I've seen people fall into this trap of toiling under crappy management because 'their team is so great'. The problem is that crappy management gets all the benefits of your awesome teams work (in fact, in crappy management, the management gets nearly *all* the glory and your 'awesome engineers' are the first under the bus when good times are over, after months on end of 60+ hour workweeks, where the management is only around for part of maybe 3 days a week. You need to find a company that has both a great team *and* good management.

    If it had been an isolated incident with one manager, and switching teams fixed it, but she reports a pattern of management dysfunction that seems pervasive, at least to wherever she could go. Now it *might* be the case that her perspective by itself is skewed, but in her view of things, it was a terrible situation and she stayed *way* longer than anyone should have.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr@ m a c . com> on Monday February 20, 2017 @12:09PM (#53900349) Journal

    And it appears that Uber is investigating said allegation. We don't have enough information to know whether it happened or not. That's what investigations are for.

    After the Duke Lacross Lynching and the UVA rape hoax, I'm inclined to reserve judgement until an accusation becomes a lawsuit and is litigated.

    -jcr

  • How surprising! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jb_nizet ( 98713 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @12:12PM (#53900379)
    Week after week, Uber shows that it doesn't give a shit about the law, whatever the country is.

    Week after week, Uber shows that it doesn't give a shit about its employees (or, as they claim, their independant drivers).

    Why would Uber management give a shit about this poor woman? Why do people accept to work for Uber, given the constant reminders that Uber doesn't respect any rule, nor anyone?

  • by nyri ( 132206 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @12:37PM (#53900543)

    I think the headline and summary gives a wrong impression. Sure, sexual harassment is tolerated but the wider picture the writing paints is about dysfunctional organisation. Specifically:

    • There was the sexual harassment that gets all the discussion.
    • One of the other sexist aspects is the fact that she was denied a transfer. This seems to be due to the some half assed policy to increase the number of women in organisation with the net effect that her transfer was blocked because her current manager wanted/needed women in his team.
    • The third documented "sexist" thing is not buying leather jackets to female employees due to larger unit price. I don't think the problem here is sexual in nature. This same could have happened to fat people or any other minority group. Don't get me wrong, the company is wrong in doing this and excluding a number of people of any sort of team building exercise is really bad. Especially when it's done to save a few hundred bucks.
    • The main problem with the Uber organisation seem to be the utter politicisation of all aspects of management. From the description I'm willing to guess that the organisation is filled with power hungry people, who in turn hire and promote others like them. You know the type. A corporate version of these all talk, no action politicians.
  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @01:29PM (#53900927) Journal

    I agree with the people on here saying we need more evidence that one person writing a blog about their side of the story to know what REALLY took place. But that's a whole lot of writing just to make up a fictional tale of how sexist things are at Uber. I'm inclined to believe it's probably at least generally true.

    But assuming it's factual? Why put up with all of that for a year and then write a blog about how you were wronged? If you really did the right thing, saving all of the chats and email conversations -- the obvious next step is a lawsuit.

    I *hate* dealing with attorneys and their shady billing practices ... but if there was ever a time to deal with them, I think *this* would be it! You're making accusations that H.R. staff broke the law multiple times in handling your complaints, and you were blocked from a promotion by someone going in and modifying a FINAL performance review (without even telling you it would be changed first). I see a whole lot of "sexual harassment" complaints that are largely baseless "he said, she said" garbage. (I used to work for a firm where one of the I.T. guys bought some flowers for the front office receptionist after she was out sick for a while. The card with them was your basic "Get Well Soon" message. She ran to H.R. and filed a complaint against him. THAT is the kind of stuff that's NOT a valid complaint. That's how you ruin things for nice guys and encourage an office environment where nobody gives a crap about each other.) But this story sounds like, especially in the state of California, you've got the law clearly on your side.

  • by nehumanuscrede ( 624750 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @01:42PM (#53901033)

    The older companies have been there and done that already. Previous incidents have honed policies about such behavior in the workplace to a fine edge.

    As a result, your older companies make sure you understand they will not tolerate it. At all. Annual reviews and signed acknowledgements of said training with the threat of termination of employment for any violations pretty much keep folks civil.

    It's just a matter of the new ones getting a taste of what happens when you don't have clear policies on the issue.

    Watch for a zero tolerance policy to be born rather quickly ( as it should ) now that there is a spotlight on it. Will be a non-issue shortly as they will likely fire the guy in question if the allegations turn out to be true.

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