Uber: Eric Holder, Arianna Huffington to Investigate Sexual Harassment Incident

Another female Uber engineer corroborates Susan Fowler’s claims that sexual harassment and toxic work environments are pervasive at the mobility company, and throughout Silicon Valley.

byLiane YvkoffFeb 21, 2017 7:44 AM
Uber: Eric Holder, Arianna Huffington to Investigate Sexual Harassment Incident

Uber is facing yet another public relations nightmare after former engineer Susan Fowler posted on her personal blog her account of sexual harassment and discrimination at the mobility start-up, prompting CEO Travis Kalanick to call for an independent investigation.

Sexual Harassment at Uber on Day 1

Fowler was hired by Uber in 2015 as a platform reliability engineer, and her troubles with the rock-star company began when her manager got a little too friendly over the company's chat platform, according to her blog post which went up on Sunday evening. Fowler recounted how her manager shared with her that he was in an open marriage, and wasn't as successful as his wife at finding someone to have sex with (hint, hint). Reading between the lines, she got the very vivid impression that her manager was propositioning her. This happened on her first day with her team. 

While Fowler saw this as wildly inappropriate and a veiled attempt at propositioning her, she says that even after she showed Uber human resources screen shots of the conversation, the department was reluctant to do anything more than give the manager "a warning and a stern talking-to," because it was his first reported sexual harrassment offense.

Weak Response From Uber Human Resources

Her disappointing visit to HR  set the tone of a long, painful year with the company that was punctuated with, Fowler claims: 1. lies from HR about said manager's history of sexual harassment; and 2. "game-of-thrones" style political war undermining of supervisors; and 3. doctored performance reviews that prevented her from transferring to other departments, in order to make her manager's team's diversity demographics look good. 

This type of petty infighting and ineffective workplace policies prompted female engineers to flee the company, she writes. By her count, only three percent of the company's 150 SREs were women. Adding insult to injury, a manager who ordered leather jackets for all engineers wouldn't buy sizes that fit women because there weren't enough females to qualify for a bulk order, according to an email chain. Therefore, the women on the team would need to source their own—only, that is, if they could find them at the same discounted price their male counterparts received.

Issues about inequity and underrepresentation were not only ineffective, but met with insinuations from HR that some genders or races were better at particular positions within the company, says Fowler, who holds dual degrees in philosophy and physics. Her manager threatened to fire her for complaining to HR, and despite reporting this illegal action to HR and the CTO, the company did nothing. So Fowler quit Uber, and now works at Stripe.

Kalanick Announces Independent Investigation on Twitter

Fowler's public blog post went viral on Twitter, prompting CEO Travis Kalanick to post on Sunday that her experience was against everything the company stood for:

Kalanick announced that he had retained board member Arianna Huffington and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder—whose firm, Covington & Burling, advises Uber on safety issues—to investigate the matter, and acknowledged the "painful" situation the company is going through in an email to employees.

Uber Facing a Lot of Bad Press Lately

This is the latest in a string of bad news for the mobility company, including the #DeleteUber boycott and a week-long strike in India following a driver's suicide. The company announced it will fight Seattle over its law allowing drivers to unionize, a move that a Teamsters group is now organizing, according to Geekwire.

Uber has been less than transparent when it comes to sharing its workforce demographics, and this toxic environment—which was corroborated by another female Uber engineer—has finally has prompted Kalanick to do what civil rights leader Jesse Jackson could not: share its workforce diversity data. 

Sexual Harassment Pervasive in Silicon Valley Tech Companies

But sexual harassment isn't unique to Uber, and is seemingly pervasive at many technology companies. Many female engineers complain about being underrepresented in workplace and subjected to unfair treatment or unwelcome sexual attention. Uber prides itself on being an industry disruptor, and if there is a silver lining in this situation, it's that it has a very public opportunity to disrupt the status quo of Silicon Valley's diversity and inclusion practices.