Susan Fowler’s book Whistle Blower is one of those books where you go in knowing that Uber is an ethical dumpster fire — and yet somehow, the story is even worse than expected.
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Susan Fowler spent a year as an engineer at Uber. In February 2017, after leaving there, she wrote a blog post that rocked Silicon Valley. On her first day after completing her training at Uber, her new supervisor propositioned her by text. Fowler went to HR with screen shots. They told her he was a “high performer” at work and this was his first offense, and her only options were: they would transfer her (not him) off the project she was already working on, or she could stay and accept that he would retaliate with a poor performance review (which HR and management refused to do anything about). Later, she learned that other women had reported the same man, and each was handed the same line about it being his “first offense.”
From there, it got worse.
In the background, there was a game-of-thrones political war raging within the ranks of upper management in the infrastructure engineering organization. It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor's job. No attempts were made by these managers to hide what they were doing: they boasted about it in meetings, told their direct reports about it, and the like. I remember countless meetings with my managers and skip-levels [the manager one level higher] where I would sit there, not saying anything, and the manager would be boasting about finding favor with their skip-level and that I should expect them to have their manager's job within a quarter or two. I also remember a very disturbing team meeting in which one of the directors boasted to our team that he had withheld business-critical information from one of the executives so that he could curry favor with one of the other executives (and, he told us with a smile on his face, it worked!).
Having already been through a gawdawful (for different reasons) experience with the University of Pennsylvania, Fowler had already learned some important lessons:
1. HR is not your friend. Their interest is protecting the company, every time. She continued to report incidents to them for the sake of a paper trail, but knew not to answer questions like “what chat board were you using to discuss this with the other women?”
2. Document everything. Screen shots, multiple backups, hard copies.
3. You’re not crazy, they’re lying. Management and HR would lie to her face, denying they’d ever received reports from her when she had copies of their email responses in front of her.
4. Diversity is not justice. When she joined, Uber made a big deal out of the fact that 25% of their engineers were women. Her last manager was extremely hostile to women, verbally abusing, gaslighting — and then sabotaging them with poor performance reviews so they couldn’t transfer away from him. Because, as it turned out, he got a bonus for keeping his “diversity numbers” up. Not coincidentally, by the time she left, that 25% had dwindled to 3%.
She expected a day or two of blowback from the blog post. Instead she got a full court press from Uber, including having her followed, private detectives calling old classmates and neighbors looking for dirt, and a smear campaign claiming that she was being “paid by Lyft” to make Uber look bad. (Worth noting, when a reporter wrote about harassment and assault allegations involving Uber drivers, #2 Uber exec Emil Michael threatened to “dig up dirt” on the reporter — and he was still working there. And when Uber allegedly obtained medical records for a woman who reported being raped by an Uber driver in India, Uber went with the story that a competing company was “framing” them.)
A full investigation led to the ousting of more than 20 employees, including both Emil Michael and CEO Travis Kalanick. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to fire an entire corporate culture.
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From belinda ridgewood:
gchaucer2 has been doing an enormous community service by liveblogging the Chauvin trial daily. In this afternoon's liveblog, she was even more helpful by highlighting in the diary this comment by zebz monkey from the morning session, about the efforts of Chauvin's defense lawyer, Nelson, in the face of days of testimony. As the diarist said, "spot-on perfect and darkly hilarious."
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