Everyone Loses with Sexism
Last month saw the release of Susan Fowler’s "Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber." You might remember Fowler during her time at Uber, where she worked as a software engineer, where she gave a number of useful talks on microservices.
In early 2017, she penned a blog post that laid bare the rampant sexism and sexual harassment she experienced while at Uber. One her first day at work, she was propositioned by her supervisor, “Jake,” over chat. When she brought the issue to HR, they deflected it, claiming that Jake was a valued asset to the company, and that this was his first infraction anyway.
This turned out not to be the case. In fact, HR for the ride-sharing service had defended Jake from multiple claims of harassment. Jake did not get punished, and Fowler, according to her own retelling of events, was reassigned to another department and was retaliatorily gaslit in subsequent performance reviews. Naturally, she left the company the first chance she got.
But Jake was not just an isolated case of inappropriate behavior. In fact, his attitude towards those he supervised was symptomatic of the entire Uber culture itself. As Fowler pointed out in the book, “Disregarding laws, rules and regulations was so entrenched in Uber's culture that managers within the company seemed to believe that various rules, including employment law and basic human decency, no longer applied to them."
Through the long string of negative press the company subsequently received, one can see this toxic ethos in action.
Only after Fowler’s post went viral, and the world was exposed to the ride-sharing service’s dirty laundry, did the company take her complaint seriously. It hired Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General, and Tammy Albarrán to conduct an independent review regarding the specific issues raised by Fowler, as well as provide an assessment of the diversity and inclusion at Uber. Resultantly, 20 employees were fired, right on track, and the company CEO Travis Kalanick took a leave of absence.
But, aside from lost goodwill, the real loss to Uber was not only of Fowler’s engineering talent, but her early-warning signal that something with the company culture was not right. Sexism is everyone’s problem.