What was only whispered about in the corridors of Silicon Valley turned into a glaring reality this week when Susan Fowler, former site reliability engineer at Uber, revealed, in a blog post, the prevalent sexism and aggressive work culture at Uber.
Fowler in a detailed revelation wrote about her ordeal at the Uber workplace where she spent a year until she could take it no more and decided to join Stripe in January.
Sexual harassment at the hands of seniors, the indifference of the management, reluctance of the HR department to initiate action against perpetrators, and the extreme meritocracy driven work culture where good performance is rewarded with a blind eye to sexual harassment complaints and other misdemeanours, have all come crashing out into the open with her Feb 19 blog post.
“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 the blog post. “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 screen shots of these chat messages and reported him to HR,” she added.
The HR, however, told her that he would be given “a warning and a stern talking- to” and that would be the end of the matter as it was his first such offense, while the upper management told her that it would not be right to punish him for “just an innocent mistake on his part” as he was a star performer.
Later, Fowler came to know from other women staff about similar advances they had endured at the hands of managers and that a few of them had been the target of the same manager she herself had reported. It was clearly evident that it was not the man’s first offense as HR had tried to show. It was a blatant acknowledgment of the “performance over ethics” culture prevailing at Uber.
About the extreme and unethical manipulations that managers and supervisors resorted to in order to up their individual careers, she wrote “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.”
Following the candid revelations by Susan Fowler, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick got into damage control mode calling for an internal investigation into the allegations bringing in Arianna Huffington, board member, and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. to investigate the harassment accusations and the HR department.
To further control the damage, Kalanick made some more disclosures on Monday giving some stats in regards to the hiring percentage of women for engineering, product management, and scientist positions. According to him, 15.1 % of the aforementioned positions were occupied by women and that there was no meaningful change in the numbers over the preceding year.
The New York Times reports that on Tuesday, Kalanick called an “all-hands meeting” which lasted for 90 minutes. In the course of the meeting, Kalanick and other executives were bombarded with questions and appeals from shocked employees who acknowledged Fowler’s story and demanded deviation from current practices.
According to the New York Times, who got to review the video of the meeting, CEO Kalanick was all apologies at the meeting for having led the company and the culture to where they stand today. “What I can promise you is that I will get better every day,” he said. “I can tell you that I am authentically and fully dedicated to getting to the bottom of this.”
Some Uber employees seem to be happy with the urgency that Kalanick has displayed toward tackling the contentious issues and his keenness to correct them. “I am pleased with how quickly Travis has responded to this,” Aimee Lucido, an Uber software engineer, wrote in a blog post. “We are better situated to handle this sort of problem than we have ever been in the past.”