A former Uber engineer has come out with claims that the company allowed sexual harassment to take place.
Susan Fowler joined Uber as a site reliability engineer in November 2015 and it did not take long for her to feel uncomfortable.
“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,” Fowler wrote in a lengthy open letter online. “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 figured Uber would handle things. And they did—just not at all how 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.
Uber gave Fowler two options: switch teams, even though she was most qualified for this one, or stay on the team and accept what would most likely be a poor performance review from the man she rejected. She pushed back but got nowhere and ultimately left the team. On her new team, she met more female engineers, and many seemed to have similar stories, including some involving the same manager she dealt with.
“It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being ;his first offense,; and it certainly wasn’t his last,” she wrote. “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.'”
Eventually the man left the company, though Fowler suspects he was finally fired—for what, exactly, she could not say.
Fowler, who also experienced a toxic promotions-driven culture that included workers stabbing their managers in the back to steal their positions, eventually left to work for Stripe, where she says there are no Game of Thrones-style political wars raging internally. At Uber, she claims, they tinkered with her performance reviews after the fact, disabling her from switching departments or moving upward inside the company—a problem she states is common among women working there.
Fowler’s odd tales continue in her letter. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick says he has started an investigation into her claims. But if the culture is a deeply ingrained as Fowler argues it is, that may do little do quell the toxicity.