UBER SEEMS to court controversy as PR, and so the latest revelations from a former engineer that the company is a nightmare of misogyny and sexism is probably causing high-fives in the marketing department.
But for those of us with souls, Susan Fowler's "strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story" published to her blog on Sunday is an appalling read, even by dinkle-heavy Silicon Valley standards.
"On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat." she says. "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 was told by HR and upper management that "they wouldn't feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to" because he "was a high performer".
They gave her the option to switch teams, or stay put, knowing that her manager would now most likely give her a poor performance review and that HR could ‘do very little about that' and "continued to insist that they had given him a stern talking to and didn't want to ruin his career over his "first offense"".
It later transpired when she compared notes with other female engineers that this was not a "first offence" - each woman getting fobbed off the same way by HR.
This all formed part of a wider power struggle in the company. She explains: "There was a game-of-thrones political war raging within the ranks of upper management in the infrastructure engineering organisation. 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."
Time moved on and Fowler looked for an internal transfer, only to find it blocked, repeatedly.
"According to my manager, his manager, and the director, my transfer was being blocked because I had undocumented performance problems. I pointed out that I had a perfect performance score, and that there had never been any complaints about my performance. I had completed all OKRs on schedule, never missed a deadline even in the insane organisational chaos, and that I had managers waiting for me to join their team. I asked what my performance problem was, and they didn't give me an answer."
After the next review, she was told "I needed to prove myself as an engineer. I was stuck where I was" and that the negative review had "no real world consequences". Which of course it did.
Fowler claims that this was a two-pronged attack. By keeping a woman engineer on the team, her manager looked good at a time when for some mysterious reason, they were jumping ship right, left and centre. Additionally, a negative review meant she no longer qualified for funding for her college course.
Fowler carried on and watched the female engineer rate drop from 25 per cent to 6 per cent, and it seemed every day a new ridiculous, sexist matter would arise. At one point she mentions that Uber staff were all offered a leather jacket, but because there were only six women, it was not cost effective to get women's sizes!
HR asked her whether, as all the complaints involved her, maybe she was the problem and warned her that she could be dismissed for reporting her manager to HR. Which she reported to HR.
HR admitted it was illegal but did nothing, because the manager is (you guessed it) a ‘high performer'.
It was at this point that Fowler took a job offer from rival company Stripe. When she left, just 3 per cent of the engineer workforce were women.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told The Verge: "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.
"We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behaviour at Uber -- and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired."
This would be fine were it not for the fact that this is just a tiny example among hundreds of reports of disastrous fails by Uber. Most recently, on the day of the Trump travel Executive Order, when New York cabbies refused to serve the airport, Uber drivers not only scabbed, but went to surge pricing. Not cool, guys. Not cool.
The reality is that Uber is broken, and as long as we keep accepting it, it will stay broken and stories like Susan Fowler's won't be the last. It's one of the reasons we don't give them oxygen unless we absolutely have to. µ
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