When Susan Fowler, a successful founder, author and former site reliability engineer at Uber, took to her personal blog Sunday night to detail what she calls “one very, very strange year at Uber,” the public was shocked at what she had to say. She detailed blatant sexism, sexual harassment and illegal workplace retaliation that was targeted at her as well as other female employees (who she says made up 25 percent of the company when she joined in November 2015 but only 3 percent when she left in December 2016).
The details are so bad that it’s really worth reading her original post, but some of the bullet points of her experience are:
- On her first official day, her manager propositioned her for sex via the company’s chat platform.
- When she reported him to HR, she was told that even though this was clearly sexual harassment, he wouldn’t be punished because he was a high performer and this was his first offense.
- She was given the option to switch to another team or stay put, but she was warned the latter would most likely result in a negative performance review, which they claimed wouldn’t be retaliation because she was given a choice.
- It turned out numerous other women reported the same manager for the same thing, and they were all told nothing would happen and that it was his first offense.
- The company discriminated against its female employees in ways such as buying leather jackets for all the men but no women, which it justified in the most absurd way.
- There were a lot more ridiculous and shady interactions with HR and her manager where she was victim-blamed, threatened that she’d be fired for reporting things to HR and more.
- False negative performance reviews caused a block of her transfer request, affected her salary and bonuses and made her ineligible for the Uber-sponsored Stanford CS graduate program she was currently enrolled in.
Uber has since opened an investigation into the allegations.
To many, this was unexpected, shocking and another reason to #DeleteUber (Here are 10 others, by the way).
But to women in the tech world, it’s what they deal with every day. It’s what they’ve been saying all along that has either gone ignored, questioned and/or dismissed. (Even with the supportive reaction, Fowler’s story again proved society’s tendency to immediately meet such accusations with skepticism. Some top comments on her post are from readers demanding the screenshots, telling her to “piss off,” wondering if this is “a feminist delusion” and pointing out how “it is very commonplace to whine about sexism and call everything sexist in the bay area.”)
But to women in tech, this was THEIR story, and it was finally getting attention.
“Susan’s story is something we hear at least once a week in our Tech Ladies community, no exaggeration,” Allison Esposito, founder of Tech Ladies, a robust and quickly expanding community for women in tech, told the Observer. “These problems are pervasive in tech. I worry about the women whose stories don’t go viral like Susan’s did.”
Yesterday afternoon, we began reaching out to women in the tech world to ask for their reactions to Fowler’s post and experience. What we got in response was women telling us their own stories of sexual harassment and sexism. We knew this runs rampant in tech, but we didn’t realize it’d be this easy to find it.
So here are 12 stories like Fowler’s, told by the women themselves. All of these women currently work in tech, and their stories are about experiences at former employers.
Hayley Anderson, Core Engineer at Meetup
“Last summer, after I was laid off without explanation, one of the managers from my former employer tried to explain to me what happened. He told me that, by default, female engineers are going to be disrespected and harassed. In order to be respected, a woman has to stand up for herself, but only in the right way. He said, ‘You tried to stand up for yourself, but you did it in a way that made you look like a cunt. We all think you’re a cunt, and nobody can respect a cunt. So of course we had to fire you.’ I don’t tell this story because it was the worst thing that happened to me. I tell it because he effectively put into words the contempt with which I was treated every day for months.”
Nirupama Mallavarupu, founder at LocalArq Inc.
“I have worked for over two decades in the tech industry. When you have a grievance, Human Resources department is not going to help you. After all, they are employed by the same management that is treating you unfairly. It is the culture that is handed down from the top that defines the atmosphere in any workplace. When I became pregnant with my second child, my bosses at Sun Microsystems were not happy with me. They moved me out of a key initiative I was working on. I was kept idle for months together which is very frustrating for an engineer. Naive as I was, I went to HR to complain about everything. And all it resulted was in me getting fired while I was on my maternity leave. They structured it so that my last day would be the day after I returned from maternity leave. This really opened my eyes to the role of HR in a company—to support management’s agenda. They do not really care about the welfare of engineers.”
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