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‘One Very, Very Strange Year’ And What Happened After: A Conversation With Uber Whistleb

With a single blog post, engineer Susan Fowler's account of sexism and harassment tossed Uber into turmoil.
With a single blog post, engineer Susan Fowler's account of sexism and harassment tossed Uber into turmoil.

Three years ago, an engineer named Susan Fowler left Uber. The company was one of the most valuable firms in Silicon Valley, and it was growing incredibly quickly.

But after she left, Fowler wrote ablog post that threw Uber into even further turmoil. The piece described a troubling company culture, even as Uber was already under scrutiny.    

Millionsof peopleread her accountof sexual harassment, abuse, and company protection of who the company deemed “high performers.”

Here’s some of it.

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. 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.

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. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

Hernew book is called “Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber.”

What compelled her to make her story public? And what happened after she did? We talk with her about that and more.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5

Michelle Harven