Former Uber Engineer Describes Experience As ‘Strange, Horrifying’ And Sexist

A former Uber engineer is speaking out about behavior that she says was “clearly sexual harassment” during her time at the company.

Susan J. Fowler joined Uber as a site reliability engineer (SRE) in November of 2015. She left her job there in December of last year and took a position with online-payment-processing company Stripe in January. In a recent post on her blog, Fowler discusses why she left Uber, and why it’s important to talk about it. After completing her introductory training with the company, Fowler chose to join an Uber team that focused on her specific area of expertise, and her work situation quickly “started getting weird.”

“On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat,” Fowler writes. “He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t.”

Of course the messages didn’t stop there.

“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.”

Instead of confronting the male manager, Uber’s human resources representatives opted to give Fowler an awkward choice of dealing with the matter herself, and facing potential consequences to her career on her own.

“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. I remarked that this didn’t seem like much of a choice, and that I wanted to stay on the team because I had significant expertise in the exact project that the team was struggling to complete (it was genuinely in the company’s best interest to have me on that team), but they told me the same thing again and again.”

Fowler eventually left the team and bounced around within the company for a few weeks before landing on another team. However, she soon learned that several of her female colleagues had faced similar issues at Uber, and some had even had even experienced sexual harassment from the same manager that Fowler had.

“Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company. As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company. It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being ‘his first offense,’ and it certainly wasn’t his last. Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his ‘first offense.’ The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.”

Fowler eventually faced cryptic performance review evaluations and was denied transfers and promotions. She wasn’t the only who facing such hardships at Uber.

“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.”

Fowler’s post, which has been covered by several news outlets and shared widely on social media, comes at a bad time for the ride-share company. Uber is still reeling for a boycott called after the company chose to “break the strike” of New York City cab drivers who were refusing to service airports as demonstrators shut down terminals in protest of Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travel from several predominately-Muslim nations.

Uber has also faced criticism for not doing enough to screen its drivers in light of several instances of women being sexually assaulted by drivers.

You can read Fowler’s full account here.

[Featured image by David Ramos/Getty Images]