A former Uber engineer has posted a hell of an account about her nightmarish time working for the company. There’s the disgusting manager sending harassing messages, yes, but the story’s true villain is Uber’s HR department, which appears to have made a concerted effort to make her life as miserable as possible.
According to her blog, Susan J. Fowler worked at the company as a site reliability engineer for just over a year, escaping for the internet payment company Stripe last month.
But a lot can happen in a year, and Fowler writes that things at Uber went south immediately after she started.
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.
The way this story should end is with her pervy manager’s prompt defenestration, but it doesn’t. Instead, Fowler was told that while the manager’s actions were “clearly sexual harassment,” he was a first-time offender and a high-performer besides. Fowler was told she could either switch teams to avoid him or stay on his, knowing she’d probably get a bad performance review. Reluctantly, she decided to move to another team.
As Fowler began to talk to other women she worked with, she discovered that many of them had stories similar to hers—in many cases, involving the same manager—meaning that HR’s claim about his “first offense” was poppycock. Fowler and several other women decided to mobilize, scheduling individual meetings with HR in attempt to have the situation addressed. Nothing was done. The manager eventually left the company of his own accord.
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Internal politics were also contributing to Fowler’s increasingly miserable work life, so much so that she requested a transfer. She had a perfect performance score, or so she thought, so the process should not have been difficult. Instead, her request was blocked, though no one would give her a straight answer as to why.
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.” I couldn’t decipher that, so I gave up and decided to stay until my next performance review.
Fowler waited until her next performance review, which was uniformly positive. She again requested a transfer, but was told she couldn’t—her review had been changed, and she was no longer eligible. It also impacted the grad program she was enrolled in at Stanford, which was paid for by Uber. The company, though, only sponsors employees with high performance reviews, and Fowler, mysteriously, no longer had one. And why not?
It turned out that keeping me on the team made my manager look good, and I overheard him boasting to the rest of the team that even though the rest of the teams were losing their women engineers left and right, he still had some on his team.
When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another eng organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%. Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization. When I asked our director at an org all-hands about what was being done about the dwindling numbers of women in the org compared to the rest of the company, his reply was, in a nutshell, that the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers.
Every day sexism was also a slow-burning headache. The company announced that it intended to buy leather jackets for everyone—except its female employees, of whom there were so few that they were not worth 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.
During another fruitless meeting with HR, Fowler was again confronted with the absurd idea that the company had no record of her past complaints. The HR rep asked Fowler if she and the other female engineers were friends, and asked for details on how they communicated.
When I pointed out how few women were in SRE, she recounted with a story about how sometimes certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the gender ratios in engineering. Our meeting ended with her berating me about keeping email records of things, and told me it was unprofessional to report things via email to HR.
Fowler, unsurprisingly, left shortly thereafter, and had a new job within a week.
Uber has not responded to a request for comment.