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Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber

Linked by Paul Ciano on February 21, 2017

Susan J. Fowler:

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On 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.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on - unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. 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.

I was then told that I had to make a choice: (i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that.

Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company. As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company. It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being “his first offense”, and it certainly wasn’t his last. 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”. The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.

John Gruber chimed in:

The whole story is compelling, and paints a scathing picture of Uber’s company culture. But the fact that the company’s HR department blatantly lied to a series of women harassed by the same man, telling each of them it was his “first offense”, is not just cruel, but shows just how confident they were that the women in the company would keep quiet about their harassment.

Jason Snell delivered this nugget of gold (remember this, kiddos):

The truth is, while employees often feel that a Human Resources department exists to serve and support them—and many HR professionals feel this way too—the HR department works for the company and its ultimate job is to protect the company.

And finally:

In a company where treating all employees fairly and creating a good work environment is part of the corporate culture, these things are all in alignment. When the corporate culture is rotten, that’s when an HR group starts doing things like gaslighting employees. And that’s why Kalanick’s statement rings hollow to me. Maybe he doesn’t think this is his corporate culture—but it is.

Paul Ciano

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