Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer who left the company in December, published a “strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying” story about her experience revealing truth about sexism and power struggles at the workplace.
Sexism is a well-known problem in Silicon Valley but what Fowler tells is astonishing. The problems began just after the first weeks of training, when she was to choose the team that worked on her area of expertise.
“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”, Fowler recalls.
Her complaints only resulted in both HR and upper management giving her a choice: either to leave the team, or continue doing her work. They said it would be uncomfortable to give the man anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to as far as he “was a high performer”.
After that, things only got worse. Fowler describes a “Game of Thrones political war” among upper management in the engineering department.
“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. 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. 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 unveiled.
The further work experience in Uber showed that managers tried to undermine the sense of reality and accomplishment. Glowing performance reviews used to be corrected later not to allow promotion or transfer to other departments.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick assured in her statement to The Verge that the company would “conduct an urgent investigation” into the allegations, and promised to fire anyone who “behaves this way or thinks this is OK.”
“I have just read Susan Fowler’s blog. 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”, Kalanick said. ‘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 says that when she joined Uber, women represented 25% of the organization she worked in. On her last day, the number dropped to 3%.