One Woman’s Very Bad Year Working at Uber

It was “complete, unrelenting chaos.”

Photo: 5chw4r7z

Susan J. Fowler was an engineer at Uber for one year. She quit that job to go work at another tech company, in part because of the appalling institutional sexism that ran rampant throughout the organization. In a detailed post on her personal blog, Fowler delves into the “ strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story” of her one year.

After settling in at Uber and picking a team to work on, Fowler found herself being propositioned for sex by her new manager.

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. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. 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 screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Instead of reprimanding — firing, maybe? — the man who was responsible for this, HR simply told her that the man would get a warning. He was a “high performer” after all, and it was just his “first offense” and “they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.”

After the incident, Fowler was given the choice to either change departments or to stay, understanding that, as a result of this, the manager would likely give her a poor review, which would negatively impact the rest of her time at the company.

One HR rep even explicitly told me that it wouldn’t be retaliation if I received a negative review later because I had been “given an option”. I tried to escalate the situation but got nowhere with either HR or with my own management chain (who continued to insist that they had given him a stern-talking to and didn’t want to ruin his career over his “first offense”).

The work environment within the upper management levels at Uber sounds pretty toxic. Fowler describes a “game-of-thrones political war” that involved basically everyone on every team trying to do better by climbing on the necks of the people underneath them. Also infuriating? Fowler’s request to transfer was repeatedly blocked, for no reason other than this very nebulous official one:

I kept pushing, until finally I was told that “performance problems aren’t always something that has to do with work, but sometimes can be about things outside of work or your personal life.”

She later found out that it was because keeping her on the team made her manager look good — she was a woman, after all, and with her on his team, he could say that he still had one on his team. There’s also the leather jacket story, which is such a bizarre way to skew “sexism and being a dick” as “equality” that I almost have to commend them for being so far up their own asses.

See, earlier in the year, the organization had promised leather jackets for everyone in organization, and had taken all of our sizes; we all tried them on and found our sizes, and placed our orders. One day, all of the women (there were, I believe, six of us left in the org) received an email saying that no leather jackets were being ordered for the women because there were not enough women in the organization to justify placing an order. I replied and said that I was sure Uber SRE could find room in their budget to buy leather jackets for the, what, six women if it could afford to buy them for over a hundred and twenty men.

The director replied back, saying that if we women really wanted equality, then we should realize we were getting equality by not getting the leather jackets. He said that because there were so many men in the org, they had gotten a significant discount on the men’s jackets but not on the women’s jackets, and it wouldn’t be equal or fair, he argued, to give the women leather jackets that cost a little more than the men’s jackets.

That logic is….something else. The entire story is appalling; it is insane. It’s a doozy. It is well worth your time.

Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber

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