It’s been a rough few months for Uber. From the #DeleteUber that went trending January in response to a perceived strike break, to mounting concerns over invasive privacy settings and user tracking, to perceived support for President Trump’s travel ban forcing CEO Travis Kalanick to resign from the President’s security council, the company has faced near constant anger and outrage from both users of the app and the media itself.
Recent allegations of sexism and sexual harassment within the company’s upper echelons have revitalized the growing discontent with Uber and its business practices, and prompted several other former software engineers from Uber to speak out. Suddenly, just as #DeleteUber was on death’s door, it was given new life.0o
The genesis for these new accusations is an account by a former software engineer for the company, Susan Fowler, who worked in Uber’s software engineering department as a software reliability engineer from November 2015 to December 2016. Titled: “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber,” and written on Fowler’s personal blog, the post describes widespread sexism and chaos within the organization, and outlines a meritocracy where managers and supervisors routinely undermined their superiors in an attempt to take their job and curry favor with the organization.
Fowler writes that on her first official day working for the company, she was propositioned by her manager for sex over the company chat. When she screen-shotted the messages and reported him to the human resources department, she was told that he was a “high performer” on his performance reviews, and they didn’t ‘feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.’ Fowler was told that since it was the manager’s first offense, they didn’t want to ruin his career by putting it on his record. HR then gave Fowler an ultimatum; either she transfer teams and never see the manager again, or stay on the team and likely receive a poor performance review from the manager. When Fowler tried to talk with HR or escalate the situation, she was given the same decision, and was told that it would not be retaliation if she received a negative review because she had been given a choice.
Fowler then transferred to a different team, where she came into contact with other women engineers, some of whom had also encountered the same manager propositioning them, well before Fowler was part of the company. In short, the HR department had lied to Fowler and the other women, and had allowed this harassment to continue. Meetings with HR were scheduled by Fowler and a few other women in an attempt to do something about the situation.
In the meeting, the HR representative maintained that the only offense on record was Fowler’s, and that none of the other women had any complaints about him, and thus nothing would change.
Fowler was berated for keeping a record of all the sexist emails and remarks she had received, and was told that sending emails to HR about these issues was unprofessional.
At the time of Fowler joining the company, about 25% of the company’s engineers were female. Re-calculating the numbers on the day she left reveals that only 3% of the engineers in the company were female.
Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick have denounced the behavior described in the account, and have launched investigations into the matter.
However, these investigations may be too little, too late. Uber is still recovering from losing 200,000 users over the perceived strike break, and just when the effects of that calamity have started to fade, these recent allegations make #DeleteUber trend again.
If Uber wants to stay #1 in the rideshare business, it’s going to have a make a real and concentrated effort to distance itself from this kind of behavior, and it has to make it fast.
Otherwise, people will have no trouble catching a Lyft instead.