A stunning tell-all by a former Uber employee has confirmed many people’s worst fears about Silicon Valley culture — sexism is alive and well and pervades the corporate culture in many of our favorite flagship tech companies, including Uber. Her blog post, which she titled “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber,” has quickly become viral, and triggered an apology and a promise of a full investigation by the CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, and Uber Board Member Arianna Huffington.
The ugly truth according to Susan Fowler
After experiencing what most people would describe as sexual harassment, management moved swiftly to protect the very man who harassed her. She faced workplace retaliation, while the man who harassed her continued to exhibit the same inappropriate behavior with other females.
Her blog post also goes into great detail about the “organizational chaos” and sexism that chased away females from her team at Uber. As females left in droves, she attempted to engage management in a reasonable discussion on why women felt unwelcome. Instead, she says that the manager told her that “the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers.”
Fowler also claimed that as she continued to face constant sexism, she started forwarding evidence to the Human Resources department. Instead of helping her, Human Resources pointed out to her that she was the problem and that she need to accept that “sometimes certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others.” She was compelled to stop reporting to HR and to accept the gender bias in her engineering department.
For anyone that has any familiarity with proper Human Resources protocol, these allegations are pretty outrageous.
This is far from the first time we’ve heard shocking stories come out of tech companies that paint a very unflattering picture of workplaces at beloved companies in Silicon Valley
Uber is a big name in the United States today. As a result, once Fowler’s blog went live, her tell-all became the talk of the town in the tech community. After all, Silicon Valley is notorious for its diversity deficits and gender imbalance on its payrolls. Could this young lady’s story explain why the tech sector perhaps isn’t hospitable in the eyes of many females and ethnic minorities?
Admitting they have a problem
As mentioned, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick and high-profile board member Arianna Huffington have promised a full-scale independent investigation. Kalanick didn’t mince words in a statement regarding what he read on Fowler’s blog: “anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.”
The sad reality is that Silicon Valley’s biggest names exhibit extreme demographic homogeneity. While tech companies have tried to address the problem, a look at the statistics reveal a workforce that’s extremely heavy on just a few groups.
Part of the problem in tech is that recruitment is often conducted through existing employees, which reinforces dominant demographics. For instance, males are likely to recommend other males to recruiters. The same pattern is exhibited when it comes to race and university education — naturally, people are much more likely to recruit friends from their same gender, ethnic group and university background.
The profitability of diversity
Corporate culture should not resemble a frat house, and that’s exactly what far too many people are experiencing right now in tech. In the end, it’s unfortunate that qualified people like Fowler are chased away from meaningful work because of a rotten corporate culture.
The mere allegation that Uber’s Human Resources Department helped cover up sexism and racism is alarming.
Study after study shows that increasing diversity helps improve profitability. A competent corporate team should be representative of its consumer base and include people from every segment of the population.
We can only hope that Fowler’s terrible experience will serve as a wake-up call to Silicon Valley moguls. If a tech giant’s workplace is inhospitable to women and ethnic minorities, they’re probably not maximizing their potential profitability.
Photo by ViaggioRoutard