An understated issue in this account the role of HR - not only in Uber, but across business in general. For too long they have played the role of employee advocate when in truth they are - and can only ever be - an instrument of the corporation.
A modern reworking of unionisation may be the only answer - a p2p network, focused on employee welfare, independent of company interest.Reply
Mike Isaac (reporter for the New York Times) is collecting more stories of harassment & toxic work environment at Uber: https://twitter.com/MikeIsaac/status/833445850130944000Reply
I have generally been skeptical about joining Uber. I was in the job market a couple of months back and was always apprehensive when interacting with their HR. I have received recruiting mails from them indicating that I would be lucky to work at Uber, instead of the opposite tone in general. Uber is probably losing many potential employees due to this.
There is no answer to the retort that Uber is successful. If that was the only guiding light for humanity, then we should just be living as savages surviving on who can punch the hardest.Reply
"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."
Uber is bleeding engineers to other startups. Will the replacements be of the same calibre?Reply
> I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.
Instead of just telling the guy never to make such a proposal again.
> this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me
You might as well call it gang rape. Sure it's one of the most idiotic ways to talk to women, however it's nowhere near a level that deserves to be called harassment, it also only happened once. I remember watching a video where a guy tapped a woman on the shoulder and people will calling it sexual assault.
It's a real shame that everything has to be about sex and race nowadays, I would rather talk about the rest of the article where she talks about corruption inside the company.Reply
Travis Kalanick's response: https://twitter.com/travisk/status/833480964315557888
> 1/ What's described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.
> 2/ I've instructed our CHRO Liane to conduct an urgent investigation. There can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber.Reply
https://medium.com/@smsowmya/harassment-at-apple-my-perspect... For all the delete Uber folks do you also throw your iPhones?Reply
Wow, this is unreal. I could expect mistreatment at various companies, but something so overt?
Thank you Susan for writing this.
> "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."
Also, this seems many species of wrong. I don't really see why your personal life should have any relevance to a performance review.Reply
Geez, and here I was considering working at Uber.
Thanks for posts like these.Reply
The very first thing that occurred to me upon reading this account of harassment is that the "high performer" deflection is complete and utter bullshit, and should be called out loudly for what it is.
I don't care of you're Thomas Edison, James Watson, or Nikola Tesla. Sending sexually-oriented messages to women in your workplace ever, let alone the first day that person is on board, is completely unacceptable and any "bro" who thinks it's OK ought to be subject to a zero-tolerance policy.Reply
Now I want to use Uber even more.Reply
I wish Susan a lot of success at Stripe. Just ordered her book and deleted the Uber app.Reply
There are reasons for hiding this. There are also reasons for lying. When you purport to have a slam dunk case of harassment and retaliation, but wait until you want to get press for your book — you lose some (but not all) credibility. Just know that having investigated a lot of these stories, very few turn up credible.Reply
It's easy to blame Uber given their track records. I don't disagree that Uber should have fired that manager and let that be the end of the story. However, from the upper management's perspective, it was probably difficult for Uber to let go an experienced manager because of a complaint from a relatively new employee. Her LinkedIn profile tells me that she's also quite inexperienced. Please correct me if I'm wrong: Am I the only one who picked up the signal that the storyteller was an alpha female and a drama queen?
Really would love to hear different perspectives on this.Reply
its not a great statement for humanity whatever truth does come out. Why people focus on HR when if this is true then the issue is a failed company culture. No amount of great HR can fix bad culture - thats sits with the founder, board and management - and every other employee who turns a blind eye. if it is true, is the company worth or even possible to save? Changing their name wont fix the culture.Reply
>>>>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
So that was Susan's interpretation? Did he say "Come, let's have sex babe".
Boo Fucking Hoo. It takes two to tango. Why did he reach out to you? What was the sexual message? Post it. I don't think someone working at Uber would say "come let's have sex". If the story is credible, then why HR did not take any action.
I call bullshit. Maybe you are an old hag who partied through the school and now does not get any attention and goes around town claiming sexual harassment. Do you think the "Betas" on hacker news care about you? Most of them are busy dreaming and masturbating to you.
Post the chat publicly instead of making accusations. Also, why post it now after ONE year? Is that because you have book coming out and need publicity? Typical women.Reply
What shocks me is the talented engineers still putting in hard work for the benefit of this system that they all hate. Companies blackball employees all the time, but the employees are happy to go the extra mile for an antisocial management structure and a megalomaniac boss? What's wrong with you people?Reply
Mainstream media are picking up this story now:Reply
What do you expect from a company that has been so many times on the wrong side of the law?
Just deleted Uber from my phone. Is there a good alternative to Ubereats?Reply
this is fucked up. why not sue? if everything in here is true, this is easy lawsuit money.Reply
Uber is the worst company even to its customers that have the unpleasantries in having to deal with any customer service issue.
My uber got hacked and some jerk took a supposed $1k ride in London on my dime. As soon as I found out I wanted to cancel my account but uber didn't allow users to cancel their accounts. I had to send an email and wait. Also they know about the hack and blamed the users for letting their accounts being hacked via not having a crazy strong password.
They need to burn to the ground .... run by total greedy douchebag pigs!Reply
People are quick to point the finger at Uber's management, culture, etc.
But after reading through Susan's reflections, the core problem seems to be in the HR department.
Allowing repeat offenses like Susan describes exposes Uber (as well as individual managers) to significant legal liability (in CA and NY, and possibly elsewhere).
Any qualified HR person knows and understands these liabilities and makes a very strong case to top management that proper conduct must be enforced.
Susan, you are probably entitled to legal remedies for what you went through because the offender had already been warned. The manager in question (and his manager) will also be subject to direct penalties under California law.
If you don't do it for yourself, do it for the many other women who will suffer through the same indignities and might not be as empowered as you were to take action.Reply
its just a coincidence she has a book coming out she wants to sell and that she has never held a job more than 1 year. (6 months, 4 months, longest = 1 year).Reply
Uber seems like one of the worst companies to work for right now. I don't understand why there are hordes of Google and Facebook engineers still leaving to work there. Is the pay really that good?Reply
Thanks Susan for writing this.
We should send this link to Uber recruiters every time they approach us.Reply
For all the people saying 'HR works for the company' and 'She should have sued!', I think you're underestimating how difficult that is to do. You're reading the account of a person who was clearly perfectly aware of her rights and how corporate workspaces operate.
What would you actually do in their position? You leave work one evening, go home and google 'lawyer that will get me lots of money from my company and work for free while I'm out of a job using nothing but my certitude I will prevail to pay rent'? Nobody (statistically) does that. In the 99% case, you'd try to make it work and then you'd find another job. As it turned out.Reply
This sounds like it has all the makings for a successful gender-discrimination class action suit. I would hope she and the rest of these women would consider it.
Uber sounds like a pretty toxic environment.Reply
As someone who is Australian and not American, if anything like this happened and HR failed in the trainwreck like manner that they did in this story, we have a government organisation that oversees and enforces workplace legislation.
It seems insane to me that the only recourse you have after HR is basically "gather evidence and sue" which seems to be common advice in this thread.Reply
Clearly there's a problem in that company, but maybe some woman working in the US could answer to me : why isn't just answering to the first mail " sorry, not interested" then keep working there not an option ?
to me, the term "harassment" means repetitive, morally painful actions from a boss to his employee. Obviously the guy has a huge problem with his sex life, but why report to HR instantly , instead of trying to see if the problem is that big and can't be solved by a person to person conversation, like grown up, first ?
EDIT : i'm not trying to be a jerk, and justify the behavior of that guy. I'd just like some woman working in tech in the US to explain to me what's wrong in my scenario.Reply
>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.
Totally normal behavior! Who hasn't spoken about their sex life the very first day of interactions?
"Welcome to the team, we use Git for source control, all of our company knowledgebase is on Confluence, and I'm in an open sex relationship! See you at lunch!"
I can't fathom what kind of weirdo does something like this, male or female.Reply
What's with all the 'this is unbelievable' comments here?
This is absolutely believable, Uber has pretty much made it their standard to break the laws where-ever they can, why should work place conduct be any different? In for a penny, in for a pound.
You'd never hear something even close to this from Stripe or some other company run by upstanding folks.
Fish rots from the head.Reply
Ya know, it's not like this was some dude who asked a co-worker out, got turned down, and that was the end of it.
Nope, this is full-on sexual harassment enabled by HR that went so far as to ambiguously punish the victim. Every time I think the 21st century is finally here, $h!+ like this happens.
The guy should have been terminated immediately once she produced the chat logs. The end. Even from a pure cold-blooded business perspective, if he's showing such poor judgment in this area, god only knows what kind of engineering decisions he's making and how they'll come back to haunt down the road.
Also, fire all of Uber's HR implicated in this nonsense. Sure, they're there to protect the company, they failed here, and they'll just fail again.Reply
> I pointed out that I was publishing a book with O'Reilly, speaking at major tech conferences, and doing all of the things that you're supposed to do to have an "upward career trajectory", but they said it didn't matter and I needed to prove myself as an engineer"
That's funny bitReply
Since this is a clear-cut case of sexual harassment by a company with very deep pockets, Ms Fowler must have talked to a lawyer, and the lawyer OK'd the OP.
Does that indicate anything about how the case is going? Such as that the settlement negotiations are at an impasse?Reply
What a despicable company. Change is happening not because a change was needed, but because it's generating negative press. Everyone in HR and management that participated in these lies and behavior needs to be fired. That's how you fix the problem.Reply
What is Uber doing with 150 SRE's? Wow talk about bloat.
The rest of the story is horrible to hear, too.Reply
Never ever take a problem to HR. HR represents the company's viewpoint at all times, not yours ever. You will never get a satisfactory resolution.
HR exists solely to help 'manage' the work force. Most companies that I've worked at it does a very poor job of it. Someday the HR department will get replaced by software, in my opinion the sooner the better.Reply
This is disgusting. I really hope Uber is an outlier, and not the norm, when it comes to this level of sexist elitism. If I had to deal with that kind of harassment and backwards pressure at work as a woman I would probably end most work days trying not to either cry or quit.
That manager should have been fired on the very first offense Susan reported. "Don't proposition your colleagues for sex, especially on company comms, ESPECIALLY on the day she starts her job" is an implicit rule that doesn't need explaining. How isn't this lawsuit material? Are the employment contracts really that binding?Reply
I'm curious if it's actually worth keeping high performing people on your company if they create a lot of internal conflict and employee turnover. Have there been studies that have looked into this? Are there HR tools that track this?
This situation reminds me of the Jeremy Clarkson Effect (https://blog.vanillaforums.com/help/how-to/dealing-with-toxi...) where you keep people on board because they are high performers/popular until the point where the amount of damage they cause versus value they provide is too high and must let them go. If, for example, you lose 5 good tech people because of one amazing tech person, is it still worth to have that one amazing person? I feel like if you could quantify something like this, it would be easier to get rid of toxic people.Reply
What a shitty HR. Fire the bastardsReply
I wonder if it would be a red flag for an engineer to continue to work at Uber for more than 6 months after this post comes out since it would signal that they either:
1) Approve of the culture there and don't see a reason to leave.
2) Aren't able to find another place to work.Reply
Why would anyone expect Uber to be anything BUT a sexist rathole of a place to work?Reply
Uber CEO responded in this article:
> I have just read Susan Fowler's blog. What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in. It's the first time this has come to my attention so I have instructed Liane Hornsey our new Chief Human Resources Officer to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations. We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber -- and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.Reply
HR fucked up and the manager should not have talked to her that way. Absolutely agree. I believe she has grounds to sue if she wishes.
Now, I think it's easy to take this type of situations and overeact. The behavior Susan described is not appropriate. That said, I think there is a trend to classify any romantic behavior or advances as sexual assault and innpapropriate behavior. Nowadays I would have a very hard time asking a girl out at work. Is it really that crazy that you might meet a girl/guy you might want to date at work?
I have had 2 girls ask me out at work in the past 3 years. Both times I just wasn't interested and politely declined. No big deal. I have also had girls approach me in professional settings such as conferences and ask me for my number and invite me for drinks. Come on people, we are human, we are attracted to each other and it's ok to approach other people as long as we are respectful and have some common sense. Let's not pretend we are robots.
I think the pendulum is swinging too much to the other side at the moment. It's easy to just generalyze and overeact. The opinion I just expressed would be considered very controversial nowadays and I would not dare to utter it in my office. People overeacted to drugs in the 80s and initiated a "drug war" that resulted in 1000s of people to be incarcerated for no good reason and billions of dollars wasted. Let's try to learn something from the past.Reply
I wish I could say this isn't happening all the time at many more companies in a less obvious way. Other than being straight up propositioned for sex, most of this other stuff has happened to me too. And I don't work at Uber.Reply
"The ramifications of these political games were significant: projects were abandoned left and right, OKRs were changed multiple times each quarter, nobody knew what our organizational priorities would be one day to the next, and very little ever got done. We all lived under fear that our teams would be dissolved, there would be another re-org, and we'd have to start on yet another new project with an impossible deadline. It was an organization in complete, unrelenting chaos."
With the exception of a startup that was on the verge of failing, this is every organisation I've ever worked for. Including two of the big silicon valley giants (one who got cut down to size after 2000, one that's still big). I wonder if the underlying reason is the same.
I must say I've also reported people to HR, and I have regretted EVERY interaction with HR I've ever had. Initiated by me or otherwise. My attitude to meeting HR now is that there's 2 options: schmooze and snooze (as in have "a good meeting in which there is one and only one accomplishment: agreement between both parties that no other meetings are necessary"), or please contact my lawyer at ...
(And I do wonder if women's experiences are the same. WTF)Reply
The hiring process at Uber already raises some red flags - so if you're not blind and totally ignorant you'll get the cue and glimpse of the company culture and your potential future there.Reply
Sounds horrible. I do wonder if this post would have come out if uber was using stripe for payments.Reply
Whenever I hear about a case of a woman being harassed at work, I can't help but wonder how I would react in a similar situation. I am male and I have never experienced workplace harrassment, but if a female co-worker started writing things like those in the story I can't imagine that it would annoy me the slightest. If she was attractive, I would probably be flattered. If it _did_ annoy me, I would ask the person to stop and if that didn't help, I might contact her husband as retaliation.
Is it a female-thing to take these sort of situations so seriously, or maybe a personality trait?Reply
Uber is such a shit company. My wife is a software engineer and I can't even imagine her having to deal with anything like this.Reply
I had a couple of job offers, one was for Uber. I was super excited about the opportunity but I spoke with one of their engineers (former) and he warned me off accepting the offer - said it was a toxic, sexist workplace and said he would not recommend women to work there. Needless to say I declined.Reply
This is 2017. How bloody hard is it to treat everybody the same and with respect?Reply
After 35 years working as an engineer one of the main things I've learned is that HR is there to protect the company from its employees. Sorry if that sounds cynical but it really is the bottom line. Even still, the fact that HR was unable to step in and even mitigate the destructive behavior (let alone doing the right thing) really speaks to the culture and ineptness of Uber's HR.Reply
I may have experienced a little bit of sexual harassment in my youth when working at a local McDonald's but, being a guy, it was the only time and I was able to put a stop to be rather quickly. However, being in software engineering for the past 12 years, I have seen the sexual harassment of several women all of which never saw a proper resolution.
For instance I worked at a small company that was later bought by a larger company. One of the women I worked with was propositioned by our boss. She reported him to HR and the next day HR scheduled a meeting with her, HR, the CEO and her boss that propositioned her. They told her that her boss denied it then proceeded to ask her for the next half an hour why she was lying and why she wanted to damage his career. She left for the rest of the day in tears.
Over half of his team, including me, left within the month. It was disgusting. During my exit interview I made sure to cite it along with his frequent trips to our area where, when she wasn't there, would pick up her photo of her and her boyfriend and just stare at it along with his fraudulent billing of clients. Nothing ever happened to him, he just got moved into another group because his team got too small.
It's really disheartening to hear story after story about this and even witnessing it yourself. I can't imagine what it's like to be on the receiving end. I worry about this not only because of it being a bad thing but I also have two daughters and it fills me with dread, after what I've seen, what they may go through.
What can be done to stop such toxicity? Do we need stronger laws? Are there groups for women who can turn to?Reply
Say this three times in the mirror before you report anything: "HR exists to protect the company". Yes it's shitty and unfortunate, but I wouldn't expect much from them.
Edit: Hit enter too soon, but does anyone have a better solution that going to HR? I've seen it several times that this is the outcome, manager protected, employee shunned or moved. In one case the employee was given 12 months of severance if she agreed not to sue, nothing was done to the manager.Reply
Another reason not to support Uber. People need to stop using services from companies with behaviour like this.Reply
This is yet another reason why I would never work for Uber and will be deleting my Uber account. There's a reason why Uber has one the worst reputations as tech companies go and here we have clear, documented proof of it.Reply
Delete your account: https://help.uber.com/h/24010fe7-7a67-4ee5-9938-c734000b144aReply
Is there an official response from Uber on this?Reply
Why doesn't she sue Uber. By law, emails under litigation are required to be retained, so the evidence must exist.
As a guy, I've faced a different type of harassment, but have made it a point to maintain a clear electronic trail within and outside the company in case the company retaliate if and when I complainReply
If you are sexually harassed, and HR doesn't do anything about it, you should sue. Don't expect HR to change.
If the stories in this article are true, and if the evidence is as strong as the article says it is, this is a slam-dunk case for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, etc.Reply
This is getting fast attention far beyond the tech crowd. There could be some serious fallout for Uber (well-deserved if the story is true).Reply
IANAL, but this screams "you will win a lawsuit, and Uber is such a terrible company it's worth the considerable personal inconvenience to you that you should file the lawsuit".Reply
> Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on - unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently.
It is my time to thank Hacker News because how many times I read it here rule number one: HR is not there to help you with your issues, but rather to determine how your issues could negatively affect the company PR image and company itself. The don't care about yoy or how to help you out - they care how to make it so that company doesn's suffer because of whatever you going through - weather fair to you or not.
So thank you guys and I'm quite suprised someone like Susan did not know that.Reply
Uber team member here.
While I can't speak to OP's post about her particular Org, I can say that the one I'm in (marketing) is very much non-toxic and a wonderful place to work.
I'm profoundly sad she had such a bad experience and hope she is much happier now.Reply
'I pointed out that I was publishing a book with O'Reilly, speaking at major tech conferences, and doing all of the things that you're supposed to do to have an "upward career trajectory", but they said it didn't matter and I needed to prove myself as an engineer.'
Maybe that's why she didn't get a promotion. Personally, I have had colleagues attempt similar things. When they embark on these external endeavors they have significantly reduced quality work in their primary job.
Obviously I don't know this author and I don't work at Uber.Reply
Susan is ~an industry veteran~ a somewhat experienced engineer and her interactions with HR are typical of what I've seen so I would have expected her to know how things would play out. In my experience HR is never there to protect the employees. HR is there to make sure the company doesn't get into any hot legal waters.
Most of the time the easiest way to do that is to just suppress any wrongdoing and sideline whoever is being wronged. That's exactly how things played out in her story. Once again solidifying my opinion of HR being a company instead of an employee protector. If you see any wrongdoing then just get a lawyer. Never go to HR.
Edit: Folks are right. She is not an industry veteran. Incorrect assumption on my part.Reply
Just another reason to delete uber. I highly encourage victims of sexual harassment who aren't making progress to follow The Intercept's recent article on tweeting anonymously. Out your company and harasser. https://theintercept.com/2017/02/20/how-to-run-a-rogue-gover...Reply
This blog post has further confirmed something I've thought for a long time.
Avoid working at companies with HR departments. In order to have an HR department a company has to be big enough to support a population of what I like to call "floaters".
No, I'm not referring to those visual artifacts... No, I'm not referring to people who aren't attached to teams...
I am referring to turds, of course.
Furthermore, the larger the HR department the more likely there is to be a turd infestation of horrific proportions.Reply
Hmm. This kind of stuff is not usually isolated. It's clear from Ms. Fowler's article that it wasn't isolated in her case.
It seems likely that a large company that treats trusted headquarters employees like this article described may also have ethical lapses in the way they treat field people. Mistreatment makes people angry.
In the waning days of the late unlamented Eastern Airlines, the airplane mechanics were angry. If you ride in an airplane maintained by angry people, you're placing great trust in their professionalism. You're trusting the line workers to leave their anger in their lockers.
In the same way, if you get into a car driven by an angry person, you're trusting that person to put his anger in the glove box. I'm sure most of Uber's drivers do that.
But isn't worker satisfaction a critical success factor for a business like Ubers?Reply
I've been questioning the legitimacy of Uber recently, and this cemented my understanding of how they operate. I'm taking my business to Lyft from now onReply
You should name every single person involvedReply
I've never been so happy to have been rejected by a company before.Reply
By all indications, Uber has a toxic work culture that costs them both top talent and organizational velocity.
I'm a college senior at a well-regarded engineering school. My CS classmates - especially women - simply do not apply to Uber, in large part because of its reputation for internal misogyny and general assholery. Four classmates interned there last summer, and as far as I know none are interested in returning. A friend of mine was actually warned off by her software engineer father. I've heard stories from friends who've worked there that corroborate Susan's tales of infighting teams and inexplicable reorganizations due to high-level backstabbing. The one woman I know who works there wants out. Susan is a high-profile and credible source; hopefully her post takes Uber's work culture issues from "open secret" to "problem that has public consequences for the company".
The CEO should crack down and take serious steps towards addressing this problem - not just for PR, but because his company is seriously suffering as a result of these issues. Unfortunately for Uber, from what I've heard, Travis is part of the problem as far as Game-of-Thrones internal politics and backstabbing goes. His "move fast and break things" persona sounds like a poor model for subordinates. Between that and the company's relative external success, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for anything internal to get better any time soon.
Until it does, I simply hope that my acquaintances at Uber find somewhere less shitty to work.Reply
Looks like she is fine with coworkers. Managers(and HR) are the main culprits. I wonder what's the background of these managers? Are they came from Google/FB or other startups? Did they behaved same manner in their previous orgs?Reply
This sounds like such a broken, toxic environment. Although it's painful and the outcome is unclear, I really hope she sues. We have to publicly shame behavior like this and make it known that it's completely unacceptable.Reply
Now you know why Uber paid so much money for Otto. It's the only way they would ever get that talent.Reply
I am really, really happy to see this as the top story on the front page of HN and to see the top comments currently here. It speaks well of HN.Reply
There aren't enough upvotes in the world for writing this.
Susan, you're a hero.
reader note: Susan is pretty famous in SRE circles: it's doubly gutsy for her to write this.
PS I'm a guy and a valley veteran.Reply
While I agree with the statements that HR works for the company, when things are working the interests of the company and employees should align. I appreciate that too often this isn't how HR operates, but I don’t think anyone wants to be misconstrued as implying that Ms. Fowler didn't understand how HR works or that she didn't take all appropriate actions.
> I wanted to stay on the team
> it was genuinely in the company's best interest to have me on that team
I read this and the rest of the article as a testiment to Ms. Fowler's work ethic and commitment to her employer and fellow employees.
> I was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making
This is the most disgusting abuse described in the article. Not only did the organization completely fail Ms. Fowler and all employees, but the HR professionals participated in the physiological abuse.Reply
> "or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that."
I fully believe that her manager sexually harassed her and should have faced much harsher consequences, but it's almost inconceivable that HR would frame her options this way. No doubt she feared retribution, but did HR really tell her to expect it? It's hard to know what to make of specifics like these, when words get paraphrased.
In any case, the manager's behavior and HR's response were inexcusable.Reply
Thanks to the author for writing this - it'd be so easy just to move on and try to forget about it. And thanks to the other HN readers for their thoughtful comments as well.Reply
Stories like this are so enraging, and yet far too common today. My partner went through a somewhat similar experience at a Big 4 accounting firm a while back. She tried to request an internal transfer to get away from a sexist, toxic environment only to have her managers destroy her credibility in the organization and ruin her career chances there.
Sure, suing is an option here, but one that Uber calculates is absolutely worth the risk. Lawsuits like this aren't punishment to billion-dollar companies, they're factored into the cost of doing business. It can take years to sue a company under these circumstances, and depending on the situation, it could do more harm to one's reputation and career down the road. Most lack the energy to relive those experiences in a law office or courtroom while trying to move on with their lives.
Lawsuits may provide financial compensation to those who've had to deal with these atrocious situations, but it's not going to solve the underlying problem.Reply
Just to add to what others have said... sue. Sue, and then don't be shocked when you end up as the primary plaintiff in a class action.Reply
i'm not doubting her story but seems strange she cant keep a job for long. 6 months at plaid and 4 months at her next company? Then only 1 year at Uber?Reply
1282 points in 2 hours and it's NOT at the top of Hacker News?Reply
This is the third most popular story in Hacker News of all time , and I couldn't be happier. This can't have been easy to write but the more posts like this, the more likely people who suffer the same issues at their workplace will share their experiences.Reply
> 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
Holy *. How long until Uber reports this as fake news?
Jose Moran, move over. Tech companies have a new scandal.
Edit: Ok ok, HN doesn't like the jab at Tesla..Reply
Uber is taking action: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/19/business/uber-sexual-hara...Reply
This is almost difficult to believe. Almost.
I always really struggle to imagine these sorts of things happening in a large, organised way. Allowing this sort of thing to go on in your business should be an enormous risk. It amounts to a conspiracy, and its hard to believe that any one employee with the interests of the business at heart would allow it to continue, much less that very many people in a group would, and its extremely difficult to swallow that someone on the level of CTO would fob this sort of thing off rather than crapping their pants and lighting fires up under arses to get it investigated and fixed.
The other part I find hard to believe is that anyone, let alone large numbers of people can put up with this sort of treatment at work for so long without taking very serious action. I don't mean going to HR, or reporting it to X, Y or Z organisation or authority - I mean really, seriously decisive action - e.g. force some director/owner to pay attention personally, and provide them evidence, and record how it goes in case they are part of the problem - however that ends you are in a very strong position to proceed, with the wrong outcome quit and /do the right thing/ and continue to pursue it for the sake of others - with the correct outcome the problem is solved. I'll concede that eventually in this retelling there are more serious efforts, but its not far enough, fast enough - and I struggle to believe that "working with smart people" or any other such thing would make up for it.
At the same time its all horribly believable... One reason being that its happening in Silicon Valley, and more generally the USA. Compared to my experiences of the UK and Europe, workers rights in the US are terrible, discrimination is rife and the legal system very strongly favours the privileged and wealthy. Don't get me wrong we have our problems of discrimination and poor workplaces too... but, especially for office workers and professionals, there are lots of incentives for employees and employers to put a stop to it, and they generally carry a very low risk.
Another reason its believable is that when you don't feel safe, have to make expenditure and/or rely on your income for survival I can appreciate not wanting to rock the boat with your employer. I think that is a very selfish and stupid attitude, especially when others will suffer for your inaction, but I can appreciate why people take such positions.
However, all that being said there is something here that really irks me. I've been in situations with horrible employers before and I've blabbed about it to the press, and you know what I did? I had evidence, and I published that evidence with my complaints. The author talks about having evidence in their retelling of events, yet doesn't provide it alongside. I'm not sure I'd ever feel comfortable attacking anyone for anything without some evidence - maybe she just didn't think to keep it personally and left it in a work mailbox (an engineer being /that/ sloppy though? hard to swallow still). Its nice to see other people coming forward and backing the claims up... but I'm still left with a niggling doubt because of this. There is always the possibility that people will try and abuse discrimination claims for financial gain... its not reasonable to discount that possibility without some evidence to the contrary (i.e that the claims are valid) - as much as its more social acceptable to not raise this issue.
Maybe I'm weird, but that first response from HR would have been given a response offering /one/ chance to get it right without any indication that its a single chance (threats are dumb), followed by a notification of my intent to expose their behaviour publically (again no threat, just polite notice). Some copy of the e-mail thread with a select personal details blocked out in black would be posted on the internet that evening... definitely not days, weeks or months later - after the fact.
Still, I'm more inclined to believe it, the way the story is so casually told as if the blog post is to satisfy people asking questions needing the same story to be told, to save time on answering them personally, and not to expose bad behaviour is ... well ... its just sad, but its believable. The impression I get is that the author doesn't really appreciate just how unacceptable this sort of thing is, and is resigned to having to live with it... :(Reply
In all honesty if I were you I would sue them plain and simple. Partially to discourage this company behavior for the other employees remaining who Im sure continue to endure it. And partially as compensation for having to endure a lot of unethical and illegal work environment behaviors being endorsed by the company on the low. You really should seek being compensated for this for the good of everyone involved.Reply
This is not exclusive to Uber. By now I'd say that most companies with skewed diversity statistics likely are toxic and dysfunctional.Reply
I think this proves that HR should be fundamentally separate from a company. The incentives are setup for a company's HR division to try and maximize success for the company.
Just like the NFL and NBA have player's associations, HR should be managed by external companies, or at least separated by function (supporting employees vs management). Companies would still be paying the HR teams, so incentives wouldn't be optimal, but seems like it would be a step in the right direction.Reply
Thank you for writing this. I hope that you're happy in your new position. It's important that people speak out against sexism and harassment like this in publicly visible ways.
I look forward to reading your book on microservices.Reply
Interesting to note that Uber has scheduled an "Uber Women in Engineering & Leadership Conference". I noticed this last year, and it was supposed to happen in November 2016. They bumped it to February 2017, before bumping it again to December 2017. Coincidence?Reply
Nothing really surprising here though. Tech (and the world) has always had a problem with sexism. Uber is particularly egregious but given the long history of quotes from the CEO is it any surprise that this is their culture? Writing was on the wall the whole time.
Just to add something to the torrent of links already in these comments http://observer.com/2016/02/ubers-10-worst-actions-threats-l....Reply
In São Paulo, where I live, taxi apps appeared a couple of years before Uber entering the market. It took the market by storm, so every single cab had to be in at least one the two major apps (Easytaxi and 99taxi). It was easy, fast and safe to call a cab anytime. But it was still expensive.
Uber came with its black cars. No one bothered. But Uber came with UberX and then Uber pool. It was a revolution, 50% cheaper. It exploded. The taxi market was/is dominated by corruption, with its medallions monopoly. Capitalism worked.
But capitalism dont stop working when Uber is winning. Now the taxi apps, specially the rebranded 99, that was the clear winner in the taxi apps fight raised hundreds of millions with the chinese and is ready to fight Uber. They now have regular taxi, a 30% discount taxi (that usually matches Uber price) and a Uber-like service with common people cars, all in the same app.
My social network mostly went back to using taxi, now that the price matches, because SP is not an easy city to transit. Uber drivers rely 100% on Waze/Google Maps. This ofyen leads to errors. Taxi drivers who drive around for years, sometimes decades are more reliable.
My point being: I dont believe in karma, but capitalism is a bitch. If you are that arrogant to mismanage that bad your resources when you are winning, when the market forces strike back, you wont be strong enough to stand on your feet.Reply
"I went home and cried that day, because even aside from impacts to my salary and bonuses, it did have real-world consequences - significant consequences that my management chain was very well aware of. I was enrolled in a Stanford CS graduate program, sponsored by Uber"
This deserves to be all caps, and in bold.
Ambitious people tend to eat shit sandwiches until they are either immune to them, or realize there's more to life.
She pointed out that the number of women at Uber was dwindling - women are smart, they take the 'more to life' route oftentimes.
It's just life playing itself out - as long as people are willing to eat shit, for money, like Susan did for a whole year - Ubers are going to be around.
No amount of blogging about it is going to help - if you're willing to eat them shit sandwiches, someone out there is going to make em for you :)Reply
A blog post like this gets so much attention where is the fucking evidence? I am a male from Iran having spent more than half of my life here and worked in Silicon Valley long enough to be considered an easy target for labels like terrorist and misogynist simultaneously (finally I'm beginning to believe it, how slow of me.) I have to say there is more and more similarities between the two with each passing day, with very little substance and meaning behind those concepts, just a vague feeling of unfairness, a thread to our identity and a powerful tool to control and manipulate and not on behalf of the proclaimed victims of course.
Why should YC or VCs give more money to females founders, blacks and hispanics?   Are we not pawns in an ugly game of moral superiority and virtue played out by those looking to profit from our moral outrage and fear?
 http://blog.samaltman.com/2017-yc-annual-letter (much high acceptance rate for those demographics)
 https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/26/winnie-grabs-2-5-million-f... (a publication about babies raises 2.5MM, female founders, having worked at places like Google and Twitter gets you a free pass with VCs if you're a woman? Homebrew Capital: Well her, she must be special not her male-counter-parts. What is special and investment-worthy about this publication and those founders, and not just adding an uptick in their portfolio's founder ratio? Hey look we got two female founders in one round!)Reply
HR is fucking useless.Reply
HR doesn't work for you, it works for the company.Reply
Bald-faced lying seems to be the name of the game in HR. My first significant encounter with any HR organization ended up with me catching them in a lie trying to manipulate me into signing something (I never did sign it). I was astonished by how ready and willing they apparently were to try this strategy on me. It was a good learning experience, in retrospect, and I'm glad that I did not fall for it.
This was at a company that generally treated me alright and was staffed with generally reasonable people, so I can't imagine the Kafkaesque nightmare that it must be to work at a notoriously chaotic, evil company like Uber, especially as a woman (which I am not).
The lesson, as so many other people in this thread have already said, is that HR is not looking out for you. Keep your own counsel and get everything in writing, and prepare for their attempts to bully and gaslight you into a marginalized position.Reply
Who here is surprised? The CEO is a proud arrogant son of a b*tch, sexist, supports Trump. His whole team treats drivers like dirt or disposable "resources". The whole attitude then gets adopted by management.
What I find surprising is people being surprised or trying to understand these kind of reports. Or why people try to get a job at Uber. Maybe they want to find a reason why they are still taking Uber. Yes Uber is innovative and cheaper, but you are encouraging a company with exploitative practices.Reply
Jeez this sucks. Everything that happened was so completely unacceptable. I really hope people are held accountable for this stuff. This kind of behavior isn't new and shouldn't be normal. The Infrastructure group specifically has is known for this politicking and bad culture. I work elsewhere, and though it isn't as bad, agree there is a big management problem at play. I'm sorry you couldn't find a team that supported you. Thank you Susan for writing all this.Reply
HR is there to protect the company in the US. I've seen lots of people fired over things like this. If they had fired you they would have given you severance in exchange for a gag order given the circumstances. Under the Obama administration you might have seen more prosecution over things like this but not under Trump.Reply
Just to be another anecdotal data point, I am a white male iOS engineer with tons of experience on top-grossing apps. I live a few miles from Uber's new building in Oakland. But I would never consider working for them because of stories like this and others. This kind of behavior doesn't just cost them good hires among women and minorities. Having a toxic culture makes it hard to hire any decent people, and if only toxic people will agree to work there, it will just perpetuate things.
Maybe they don't care now, they're growing, they're sitting on big piles of cash, they can afford to be assholes if they want. Our culture regrettably gives them that option, even rewards for it sometimes. But companies ossify as they grow, disruptors become entrenched and it takes a long, long time to shake a reputation like this. They've created a new market but they're not entitled to it forever.Reply
Part of the problem is that men frequently misconstrue a women's natural instinct for being social and friendly as a sexual overture, usually this is because they're so used to other men being so unfriendly.Reply
I hate stories like this, because there's such an easy solution: hire more women.
Nobody should ever have to work with a single-gender reporting tree; in the five or so steps between each individual contributor and the CTO there should be at least one woman.
It's not an impossible, or even implausible, goal. Throw a little money at it and widen the funnel, and you'll find plenty of absolutely incredible women. It's even self-perpetuating - each woman brings a network of peers to the table and makes further recruiting that much easier.
But that first hire is a doozy... I've turned down jobs in the valley before because I'd be the only woman in my org (it was only a tie-breaking factor, but a big one.)Reply
Don't ever talk to HR in a situation like this. HR is there for only one reason: to protect the company, NOT to protect you. If anything like this happens to you, lawyer up. Immediately.Reply
I don't know about you guys, but I've been to sexual harassment training. What Susan documented could be translated to tens of millions in fines and damages.
If it's this egregious, it's could be much, much, higher.Reply
> The HR rep began the meeting by asking me if I had noticed that I was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making
That's such a meaningless thing for an HR person to ask someone, that it clearly only serves to be patronising and hopefully stop them bringing problems up. I mean, how could you as an HR staffer possibly justify your inaction with an argument like that?
"We didn't act on any of their complaints, as we noticed that in all the cases of harassment that they reported, they were the victim in all of them!"Reply
In case anyone isn't sure why the original interaction is harassment: relationships within a reporting chain are generally prohibited, for both legal, ethical, and practical reasons. Sex becoming part of the effective job description crosses both legal and ethical lines, and team effectiveness is hindered when people wonder whether someone is getting special treatment because they're sleeping with the boss.
A manager propositioned a new employee on her first day on his team -- asking not just for a date but for sex. That's way over the line.
Also, this isn't just a gendered thing -- Google the story of Keith Rabois resigning as COO of Square.Reply
Uber employee here.
This was a disheartening story to read to say the least. I hope that she sues as her case is abundantly clear and the response by HR and the management chain was absolutely unacceptable. If what happened is true, they should be held accountable.
Unfortunately, from my perspective, Uber has a track record of lack of accountability when it comes to leadership/managers. Pretty much everyone I know at Uber believes that Josh Mohrer  and Emil Michael  should have been fired. It's probably fair to say both are generally regarded as being high performers, but what they did was extremely damaging to the reputation of the company and the fact they weren't held accountable only worsens that reputation.
I think that generally Uber is a positive influence in the world. It has created work opportunities for millions essentially out of thin air has fundamentally changed how people think about transportation in cities for the better. Uber is certainly disruptive and its methods and behavior have been brash at times which has often resulted in a disproportionate amount of scrutiny, both deserved (comments and actions targeting journalists, sexism) and otherwise ("support" of Trump, #deleteuber, and surge price "gouging"). For me, Uber is still a place filled with many talented people working on interesting, challenging problems. But a story like this is a tough pill to swallow.Reply
I think part of the problem is giving too much power to middle management in tech, which I think is unnecessary and many companies like google have tried to obviate this problem.Reply
Never trust HR.Reply
I am struggling to think of something productive to contribute to this discussion, because this absolutely incensed me.
In lieu of anything else: Susan deserves to be commended for her bravery in writing this.Reply
Everything is sexual harassment now jesus fucking christ. Uber is making so many SJWs pissed lately that it gives me more and more joy to use it.Reply
Not to derail the whole premise of this article, but Susan's book looks great! Just bought it and can't wait to start reading it.Reply
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I'm surprised they kept her around so long. I am wondering why they just didn't bring her in, transfer her to a new team, and tell her she was no longer "a good cultural fit" with the team. In a at will:right to work state that is a totally legal way to fire a high performing employee (I think).
It's almost like they enjoyed watching her complain. Glad she got out.Reply
The saddest thing about this to me is that she decided to stay for so long, and let the incidents stack up. I'm not sure if that's indicative of her personality, or what women in the industry have come to expect, and thus have a much higher tolerance for bullshit of this caliber. Unfortunately, from the repeated stories we hear I suspect it's the latter, and that's fucking tragic.Reply
A blog post like this gets so much attention where is the fucking evidence? I am a male from Iran having spent more than half of my life here and worked in Silicon Valley long enough to be considered an easy target for labels like terrorist and misogynist simultaneously (finally I'm beginning to believe it, how slow of me.) I have to say there is more and more similarities between the two with each passing day, with very little substance and meaning behind those concepts, just a vague feeling of unfairness, a thread to our identity and a powerful tool to control and manipulate and not on behalf of the proclaimed victims of course. Why should YC or VCs give more money to females founders, blacks and hispanics?   Are we not pawns in an ugly game of moral superiority and virtue played out by those looking to profit from our moral outrage and fear?  http://blog.samaltman.com/2017-yc-annual-letter (much high acceptance rate for those demographics)  https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/26/winnie-grabs-2-5-million-f.... (a publication about babies raises 2.5MM, female founders, having worked at places like Google and Twitter gets you a free pass with VCs if you're a woman? Homebrew Capital: Well her, she must be special not her male-counter-parts. What is special and investment-worthy about this publication and those founders, and not just adding an uptick in their portfolio's founder ratio? Hey look we got two female founders in one round!Reply
I work at Lyft, and although I'm in different shoes (SW male), I really can't see this happening and HR/management stonewalling the complaints. We don't tolerate harassment, and we stand up for each other. I know I try to. 
I honestly don't understand how Uber attracts talent. Lyft and Uber both work on really interesting problems.  The difference is that Uber are, well, the sort of people Travis Kalanick would hire.  Lyft is smaller, sure, but we're growing at a very rapid tick (and smaller means there's more for each engineer to do). And though people generally view Lyft as being undifferentiated from Uber, I think we can positively say that we provide a better user experience in many ways, in spite of being a much smaller outfit. And again: we're growing. Fast.
Bottom line: if you're looking at a job at Uber, consider applying to Lyft :) It'll be worth your time.
 "Uplift others" and "Be yourself" are two of our four core values.  I joined Lyft after leaving a job at Google and rejecting offers from AirBnB and Dropbox, and I'm 100% confident I would do the same thing over again. Working at Lyft is fun—and impactful.  Not to say that they're all bad people; I have lots of friends that work there. But there's a dramatic cultural difference between the two companies, and that culture is driven by the leadership. So the "median" employee at Lyft will be very different from the median at Uber.
P.S. So clearly I'm a little biased on this subject :) Take with a grain of salt.Reply
How can one be so untactful and 'proposition' via text chat? Someone may take screenshots and go to HR... Weird.Reply
IANAL, but isn't the described behavior by HR and the management very much illegal? I thought there were laws in place to protect workers. I hope Susan Fowler has a wonderful career.Reply
> how sometimes certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others
What the ever-loving fuck. They're talking about programming computers. HR at the company actually hinted that your ethnic background or gender can make you better at computers?Reply
Wow this is unbelievable, I know sexism is still very much real in the workplace but I'm floored it's this overt. And the incompetence shown by HR is baffling.Reply
Repeat after me: HR is not on your sideReply
What the hell? Why isn't there a lawsuit yet? Everything is documented!Reply
Sue. Sue them for all they're worth. I was at Uber for six months, and I had enough - Mostly because of the blatant backstabbing and shell games managers were trying to play, rating their worst performers highly just long enough to get them transferred out, pointing out only the negative aspects of what their better workers were doing. There were some good people and some bad, but ultimately the culture was toxic, and the rampant sexism was just one (very large) part of it.Reply
It's quite unfortunate that it requires someone to take a huge public risk to bring attention to this, despite the fact we all live around it every day.
Many companies have this problem. Everyday we can make it better, make it less prevalent, and change how management, engineering, designing, hiring, recruiting, and socialization are done.
Nothing is going to change if all that comes of this is folks hemming and hawing on chat forums. Not much will even change if you decide that this is the final straw to delete Uber. What will make a change is if you go to work on Tuesday and ask your HR rep, "What is the protocol for this?" Make sure they have it in writing. At a small company? Ask the founder to make sure this is covered. Make sure that everyone agrees that these actions cannot go unpunished because people are "high" performers.Reply
Personally, I don't dislike sexual harassment laws as much as employment anti-discrimination laws, but I do question whether they are really needed.Reply
I've always heard HR works for the company's interest first and foremost. Go to a lawyer first and have them communicate with the C-level execs. Although Uber sounds like it has a pretty toxic culture all the way up.Reply
Susan, thank you for sharing and please accept a virtual hug to help you shake the experience. I'm amazed you were this patient with such ridiculous behavior.Reply
OK, so I had no clue who Susan Fowler was.
And now I am impressed:Reply
Not surprising for a company who's internal motto has been, "drivers get paid, riders get laid."Reply
To show our solidarity against this kind of behaviour by corporate, we should all crowd fund your lawyer's fees and teach Uber a big fucking lesson really blow it out of the water. Really stick it to them. I'll happily begin contributions.
edit: rather pathetic with all the male chauvanistic Uber engineers on here downvoting away.Reply
Not surprising for a company whose internal motto has been, "drivers get paid, riders get laid."Reply
Using a throwaway for obvious reasons. I started as an engineer at Uber about 7 months ago and sadly none of this surprises me. I feel for Ms. Fowler and seeing this gives me even greater motivation to leave. I can't speak for the rest of the organization but can say that Uber's engineering org has a lot of assholes like the ones Ms. Fowler describes.
My negative experience doesn't compare to Ms. Fowler's, but what I've seen basically boils down to:
1) Senior engineers and managers who lack anything approaching maturity. A lot of toxic personalities have been promoted into positions of seniority because they were at some point considered high performers. Many managers and senior engineers are concerned mainly with expanding their influence over improving the organization, helping those with less experience or — god forbid — actually getting anything done.
2) Diseased work culture. 60-hour work weeks seen as normal and encouraged as an enactment of Uber's "Always Be Hustling" cultural value. Tons of drinking, sometimes forced on you by your manager or your manager's manager. Too many unhappy, burnt out people fearful of negative performance reviews.
3) A lot of this stems from our CEO, Travis Kalanick, being profoundly out of touch. He's constitutionally incapable of acknowledging the company's real problems (toxic culture, massive unprofitability, drivers who hate us to name a few).
There are some fantastic engineers and plenty of good people at Uber, but the company rewards the bad eggs far too often and it's killing us from within.Reply
Everything I've heard about Uber from people who have joined is terrible. Train wreck of Human Resources, unprofessional conduct as par the course, terrible pay locked up in a nowhere in sight IPO. I honestly don't understand why people keep joining them.Reply
> I was then told that I had to make a choice: (i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that.
Holy shit. There are terrible people who make into positions of power and then abuse it. But it is whole other layer of horribleness when there is institutional corruption and evil which encourages and protects that. With a nice little bonus of blackmail on the top -- "you'll get bad reviews if you stay, be careful".
It is humiliating to have that happen to someone, then the humiliation and hurt triples when you realize the system that you hoped is there to fix the problem and stand behind you is helping the perpetrator.
I have seen some really good programmers, if the 10x myth was true, it certainly was true for them. But I wouldn't bat an eye kicking them out in cases like this.Reply