Uber, the tech giant which resisted calls from Jesse Jackson to release diversity stats, has made an abrupt shift and is vowing to release data on their workers as well as launching an investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder into allegations about sexual harassment against a former female worker.
The uproar stems from a blog posted on by Susan Fowler, a former Uber employee, who made explosive allegations that a supervisor sexually harassed her.
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.
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.
Fowler claimed that she met more women engineers at the company who had stories similar to hers, some even about the exact same manager that she had reported. She also shared stories of where female workers were left out of perks and other forms of discrimination.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick initially took to Twitter to respond to her saying what she described was “abhorrent & against everything [they] believe in” then promising to conduct an urgent investigation. Arianna Huffington who sits on Uber’s board also tweeted her support to work on a full independent investigation.
The details of the investigation have become clearer in a memo released by Uber, where Kalanick told employees that that the review would be conducted in “short order.” In addition to the investigation, Huffington and the new HR chief will conduct a listening tour.
Kalanick says he’s committed to rooting out what may be discrimination at Uber as his email to staff explains:
Third, there have been many questions about the gender diversity of Uber's technology teams.
I believe in creating a workplace where a deep sense of justice underpins everything we do. … What is driving me through all this is a determination that we take what's happened as an opportunity to heal wounds of the past and set a new standard for justice in the workplace.
It's a positive step that Kalanick and Uber are responding to these allegations, though if Susan Fowler's blog is accurate, Uber's initial response appears to have been inadequate. Given that the ridesharing outfit has faced opposition from entrenched interests, Uber could have saved a lot of trouble (not to mention an investigation led by a former U.S. attorney general) by taking Fowler's allegations seriously. No doubt, this fiasco will be helpful to Uber's opponents.
It will also mean that there will be less tolerance if Uber fails to make its workforce more diverse immediately. Doing this pronto is not that simple, nor should it be.
As we’ve maintained, boosting female representation at tech companies requires increasing the pool of women in such fields. Kalanick points to evidence that across their engineering, product management, and scientist roles women make up only 15.1 percent of employees – about in line with other tech companies like Facebook (17 percent), Google (19 percent) and Twitter (15 percent). Waving a magic legislative or regulatory pen won’t make women suddenly appear.
Because of choice. Women choose careers that are valued differently in the marketplace. Women are attracted to careers that nurture as well as the social sciences, and not necessarily the STEM majors. That’s not something to regulate.
If we want to expose girls and young women to skills and education in fields like engineering that’s great. However, we have to accept the choices they make and the outcomes that ensue (though we're glad when the concerns of women are taken seriously).
We’ll track what comes of Uber’s investigation and what it means for the rest of the industry.