Ride-booking company Uber has announced an urgent investigation into claims of sexual harassment and discrimination at the company, as well as threats from management against those who complain.
In a 3,000-word blog post that has since gone viral, former employee Susan Fowler detailed what she described as “a very, very strange year at Uber”.
Ms Fowler alleged that on her first day as a programmer and engineer at Uber, her manager sexually propositioned her over the company’s internal chat system.
She said when she complained to human resources, she was dismissed.
I wrote something up this weekend about my year at Uber, and why I left: https://t.co/SyREtfLuZH
— Susan Fowler Rigetti (@susanthesquark) February 19, 2017
“Upper management told me that he ‘was a high performer’ … and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part,” she wrote.
Ms Fowler said her pathway to promotion was blocked after the incident, and she left the company after further complaints she made about harassment and sexism fell on deaf ears.
After the essay was posted online earlier this week, it has been shared tens of thousands of times.
Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick has since taken to Twitter to announce a full investigation.
“What’s described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired [sic],” he tweeted.
“I’ve instructed our chief human resources officer Liane to conduct an urgent investigation. There can be absolutely no place for this kind of behaviour at Uber.”
Sexual harassment in tech nothing new: advocate
Jenine Beekhuyzen, chief executive of the Tech Girls movement in Australia, said Ms Fowler’s account of her time at Uber was not news.
“Sadly it’s not as isolated as they’d like to think it is, and we don’t hear about it a lot because essentially women just don’t talk about it,” Dr Beekhuyzen said.
Because if we talk about it then we have to deal with it, and if we do that every day and call it out then we’d never get through the day.
Jenine Beekhuyzen, CEO of the Tech Girls movement in Australia
Dr Beekhuyzen, whose organisation promotes a more diverse IT workplace, said over the years she had experienced plenty of sexism working in the tech industry.
“The immediate assumption that you don’t have skills because you’re a woman, the assumption that you’re in the room to take notes and bring coffee and those kinds of things,” she said.
Uber is one of the few major tech companies that has yet to publish statistics on its workplace diversity.
In her blog post, Ms Fowler claimed her section of Uber was made up of roughly 25 per women when she started, but dropped to less than 6 per cent by the time she left.
Dr Beekhuyzen said simply getting women to work in the industry at all was tough.
“We’re not getting women coming into the tech industry, but once they do come in and sort of fight their way through, then they’re faced with these kinds of challenges,” she said.
According to Dr Beekhyuzan, women working in the industry have as much of a responsibility to bring about change as men.
“All staff need to have training in unconscious bias, and this is women as well — women also engage in unconscious bias, we are just as much to blame,” she said.
“These biases are ingrained and you don’t realise the impact of them.”