Power

Let’s not kid ourselves: Sexual harassment is rampant in Silicon Valley

A former Uber employee’s tale should be an anomaly in the tech industry. Unfortunately it’s the norm.

Power

Let’s not kid ourselves: Sexual harassment is rampant in Silicon Valley

A former Uber employee’s tale should be an anomaly in the tech industry. Unfortunately it’s the norm.
Power

Let’s not kid ourselves: Sexual harassment is rampant in Silicon Valley

A former Uber employee’s tale should be an anomaly in the tech industry. Unfortunately it’s the norm.

A Sunday blog post by Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, has become something of a viral sensation. In the succinct post, Fowler details her employment history at the company as one that was rife with sexual harassment from very early on. She writes: “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.”

HR didn’t respond well, telling Fowler that the man she was complaining about was a “high performer” and that her experience was likely an “innocent mistake.” Her situation didn’t get better, and throughout the rest of her time at the company, Fowler met other women, she says, with disturbingly similar experiences. She left the company after just a year.

HR didn’t respond well, telling Fowler that the man she was complaining about was a “high performer”

Rare Gratitude

What she describes is a completely inhospitable environment for women: “When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another eng organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%. Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn't transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization.” By the time she left the company, only 3 percent of the engineers on the SRE teams were women, according to her calculations.

Uber responded by saying it would launch an “urgent investigation” into the charges and behaviors. Sure: We all panic when we get caught. The trouble is that, according to Fowler, Uber knows — and has known — about all the issues she experienced for a really long time. According to her story, she contacted human resources multiple times throughout her employment.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a statement that “what she describes is abhorrent,” and says it’s “the first time this has come to my attention.” Interesting, of course, since “this is the first time we’ve heard of it” is exactly what Uber’s HR said to Susan Fowler when she made her first report.

So, though it makes sense that Uber is now scrambling around to save itself from what is clearly going to be another PR disaster for the company, it’s also important to remember that this is not an isolated incident. In fact, sexual harassment in the workplace is extremely common, and Silicon Valley is not exempt. Here are just a few of the most egregious, and most recent, examples:

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