Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber
February 19, 2017 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Susan Fowler, a former site reliability engineer at Uber, recounts her year of employment at the company, including stories of sexual harassment, retaliation by managers, and a pattern of inaction or coverups by the human resources department.

Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick's response:

"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."

Previously on Metafilter: the Muslim Ban and Uber's response.
posted by bluecore (174 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nobody believes you, Travis. Nobody.
posted by boo_radley at 5:40 PM on February 19, 2017 [186 favorites]


It's a good thing their CEO said some things, because otherwise people might have been misled by his track record of the stuff he's actually done with regard to acknowledging others' basic humanity
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:41 PM on February 19, 2017 [107 favorites]


It's really important to remember that this isn't an Uber problem, it's an industry problem. This is really fucking egregious, yes; but literally all of the women i know who work in the industry have at least one really horrific story, and most of them have too many to count.
posted by adrienneleigh at 5:43 PM on February 19, 2017 [125 favorites]


I'm surprised to hear this. Travis Kalanick seems like such a nice guy. I guess I just assumed that would wear off on the people around him.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:45 PM on February 19, 2017 [6 favorites]


And I've seen her present at conferences about Uber's infrastructure and design. She was 100%into the work and had an incredible depth of knowledge that was amazing to see. What a dumb loss for Uber.
posted by boo_radley at 5:49 PM on February 19, 2017 [18 favorites]


As twitter points out: '"First time I've heard of it" response to a blog detailing repeated "this is the first offense" gaslighting from HR'.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 5:49 PM on February 19, 2017 [145 favorites]


I have to say, I found that genuinely shocking. Not the initial "creepy dude propositions me and nothing is done even though he's a serial offender" but the blocking of transfers and the thing with the jackets. Do they think people are their prisoners so they can just make things incredibly illogical and shitty and people will still stay?

This article did not convince me that I should use Uber.
posted by Frowner at 5:52 PM on February 19, 2017 [31 favorites]


I have multiple family members who work in HR and employment law. If any shit like this went down in their workplaces, heads would roll.
posted by suelac at 6:06 PM on February 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


Well this is my surprised face.

This is what women in any majority-male work environment deal with every single day. The tech world is just more blatant about it, because tech companies are don't have as many adults in the room.
And it's why after a lifetime of working in the trades, I'm now self-employed in a completely different field... which happens to be majority-female. Because fuck that shit.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:07 PM on February 19, 2017 [81 favorites]


anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.

All of HR, then.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:11 PM on February 19, 2017 [20 favorites]


It's been apparent to me for quite some time that Uber's real disruptive innovation is in douchebaggery and if you look closely at that, you'll find they aren't innovative there, either.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 6:22 PM on February 19, 2017 [62 favorites]


Once again confirming that uber execs are among the worst shitweasels around.
posted by rockindata at 6:23 PM on February 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


kevinbelt: The same Travis Kalanick who famously said he calls his company "Boober" because it helps him get laid? The one whose VP of communication had to "work on" Travis' public misogyny? The one who tacitly endorsed another of his VPs' desire to target and stalk the (female) journalists exposing Uber's terrible practices? That guy? If he "seems like such a nice guy" to you, i invite you to consider that you are part of the problem.
posted by adrienneleigh at 6:25 PM on February 19, 2017 [75 favorites]


Ms. Fowler should probably shut down comments on her blog. Never read the bottom of the internet, friends.
posted by Karaage at 6:26 PM on February 19, 2017 [7 favorites]


Hoow to delete your Uber account:

Don't delete the app yet. You can't do this from the website.
You need to do these steps first (from WikiHow):
1. Open the Uber app on the phone
2. Tap ☰.
3. Tap Help.
4. Tap Account and Payment.
5. Tap Account Settings and Ratings.
6. Tap Delete my Uber Account.
7. Fill out the two text fields. (I just entered 'Susan J Fowler' for a reason).
8. Tap Submit.

Now you can delete the app from the phone.
posted by eye of newt at 6:26 PM on February 19, 2017 [114 favorites]


Sometimes I think the only reason tech folks continue to patronize Uber is so they can point to some other company - any company - that treats people worse than their own.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 6:27 PM on February 19, 2017 [7 favorites]


Most of the time these articles wind up trailing off into a five-paragraph monologue, but this just keeps getting worse until it just ends. Ugh.
posted by rhizome at 6:28 PM on February 19, 2017 [6 favorites]


adrienneleigh: "kevinbelt: The same Travis Kalanick who famously said he calls his company "Boober" because it helps him get laid? The one whose VP of communication had to "work on" Travis' public misogyny? The one who tacitly endorsed another of his VPs' desire to target and stalk the (female) journalists exposing Uber's terrible practices? That guy? If he "seems like such a nice guy" to you, i invite you to consider that you are part of the problem."

I read that as Kevin making fun of Travis for being a jerk. I have been saying for a long while that Uber management is jerks, and abusive jerks, and this is yet another bag of sand on their grave, IMO.
posted by Samizdata at 6:28 PM on February 19, 2017 [12 favorites]


Sometimes I think the only reason tech folks continue to patronize Uber is so they can point to some other company - any company - that treats people worse than their own.

Ha ha, no. They just don't care.
posted by rhizome at 6:29 PM on February 19, 2017 [11 favorites]


This article is difficult to read, but it's because it's so familiar. I am a woman in tech, and for the first time recently had to decide how to deal with a difficult person in a middle management position, with a lot of power over my career. I only felt safe going to HR about some of what happened after finding out that many other people had already gone to HR, only to basically be told that all the concrete things I listed had happened before there was a formal reprimand/improvement period and unless it happens again, there's nothing they can do. Unlike the author of the blog post, nothing that happened ever crossed the legal line into "hostile workplace" territory, but rest assured that it was/is a miserable time with lots of unnecessary stress, loss of productivity, and sometimes tears because of this individual. I have also been told that I shouldn't worry about a mediocre performance review, that it won't impact my future--by HR as well as this manager. Many, many people have left the company because of this same person, and while I think most of the rot is fairly contained rather than enshrined in company culture (like Uber), the fact that he is still there and still gets to keep his position while lots of valuable people stream out the door tells me enough.

I'm really glad Susan Fowler got out, and glad I had already sworn off Uber in favor of Lyft long ago. I'm also busy working on getting out of my own bad situation, and hope this kind of thing stops feeling so familiar for so many women in my industry. Wish me luck!
posted by j.r at 6:34 PM on February 19, 2017 [57 favorites]


I was powerfully struck - as this went around Twitter earlier today - by how many women said "Yep, this is exactly what happened to me at [Company X]." I really wanted to lump this in with Travis doucebaggery and corporate culture, etc. but I think that's a bit of a dodge, a bit of normalizing (?) - Oh, that's UBER.

Nope, it's much more pervasive. Tech, Silicon Valley, and beyond. As a man, I want to be clear with myself that the issue is not Uber specifically. That makes it harder to accept and (in whatever meager way I can) address, but it's important IMHO.
posted by stevil at 6:40 PM on February 19, 2017 [23 favorites]


I was amazed at how matter-of-fact she was, and how much effort she seems to have put into saying "Yeah, but..." about her time at Uber -- like she (and, apparently, other women) tried so fucking hard to let things like this roll off her back.
posted by Etrigan at 6:44 PM on February 19, 2017 [28 favorites]


"Yep, this is exactly what happened to me at [Company X)

This also sounds depressingly like what happens at universities, where apparently no complaints much ever be combined to represent a pattern because all academics are unique blossoms.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:46 PM on February 19, 2017 [11 favorites]


it's an industry problem.

First of all yes. A thousand times this.

There was one graf from TFA that bugged me, though. It was this:

I was lucky enough during all of this to work with some of the most amazing engineers in the Bay Area. We kept our heads down and did good (sometimes great) work despite the chaos. We loved our work, we loved the engineering challenges, we loved making this crazy Uber machine work [...]

I keep hearing this from engineers: yes, there were systemic problems in the workplace, there was abusive behavior, we were working for the devil to the detriment of mankind, but we got to work on interesting problems with talented colleagues.
posted by phooky at 6:54 PM on February 19, 2017 [49 favorites]


Camaraderie in the salt mines.
posted by rhizome at 7:04 PM on February 19, 2017 [7 favorites]


phooky, that's what I tell myself to rationalize that the job is worth it! It's not entirely untrue, but if you can't convince yourself of it then there's no point to being an engineer (other than housing in Silicon Valley is really expensive and an engineer salary might give you some savings after you subtract rent and food).
posted by j.r at 7:06 PM on February 19, 2017


If he "seems like such a nice guy" to you, i invite you to consider that you are part of the problem.

Poe's law strikes again?
posted by pwnguin at 7:07 PM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Given Travis Kalanick's response, she should say "Oh, great. Here are the names of the manager that propositioned me, the managers and directors that blocked my transfers and the HR staff that were complicit."

I know, I know, it will never happen because it will blackball her career. How do I know? I'm a female in tech in Silicon Valley. Sigh.

I hadn't deleted my Uber app after the Kalanick/Trump blow up, I just stopped using it. I deleted it just now though with Susan's name and a comment asking if he really thinks we believe he in't know that shit was happening.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 7:08 PM on February 19, 2017 [48 favorites]


"This is the first time I've heard about it for the four hundredth time." So, technically correct.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:10 PM on February 19, 2017 [22 favorites]


If it was a castigation of the whole industry, she would've gone away from the industry. As it is, she went into Stripe, which is basically the bastion of extremely cool kids and has been for some time. So she hasn't been blackballed, at least yet, and I highly suspect that Stripe et al would just not respect any blackballing.

The only people in Silicon Valley coordinated enough to blackball anyone is the more connected VC's. The more money power and leverage the VC or angel has, usually the less they discriminate on the money, because they're generically less desperate and usually sometimes marginally less awful people (an extremely winners-take-all game). So it's usually the case that blackballing is for real actual scum (eg, fraudsters. E Holmes is deffo never welcome to anything in VCland ever again, even tho she only raised from poorer VCs and DFJ). There are way too many companies and they care waaay too little about HR to successfully blackball from non-bluechip companies.

There is also the fact of a bona fide blue chip pedigree, in that everyone with a Stanford affiliation gets a second look from everybody, pretty much.

Uber has a high percentage of scum, and the rest of the folks at Uber abide by the scummyness, but it's heterogeneous, this crap
posted by hleehowon at 7:17 PM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Having worked at a startup with really inexperienced HR, they can truly fuck up the environment...especially for at risk employees (any one different from the Dilberts).

Giving credit where credit is due, a well sourced and backed HR team can be an amazing asset. I'm really lucky in my current gig that they are independent and kick ass when needed.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 7:44 PM on February 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


Camaraderie in the salt mines.

Some of the Hacker News comments are calling for unionization of all tech workers as a way to combat this sort of corporate abuse. An encouraging sign.
posted by Apocryphon at 7:50 PM on February 19, 2017 [37 favorites]


> Having worked at a startup with really inexperienced HR, they can truly fuck up the environment...especially for at risk employees (any one different from the Dilberts).

Sure, but Uber is not that. Or at this stage of things, shouldn't be. If nothing else, the VCs who have invested billions of dollars in them should make the funding contingent on competent, law-following HR policies. I know, ha ha ha. But still, they have a ton of leverage and they could use it. I mean, surely she's not the only person to notice that the number of female engineers went from 25% to 6% in the year she worked there? That's an indicator that something shitty is happening - either Uber is incapable of hiring qualified people, or those qualified people are fleeing at alarming rates. HIring and onboarding technical staff is not cheap: how much money is going down the toilet because male Uber managers can't keep it in their pants, and there are no penalties for that behavior?
posted by rtha at 7:50 PM on February 19, 2017 [27 favorites]


This is it for me. I'm done with Uber. I put up with the rest of their bullshit because I liked their actual service and because of my extreme loathing for the Sydney taxi industry, but enough is enough. Even the taxi companies, lazy, price-gouging, monopolistic fucks that they are, aren't this bad.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:51 PM on February 19, 2017 [15 favorites]


rtha: There was an age when VCs did shit like that and it was the early-mid 90's when they didn't trust startup CEOs at all. Replaced them all the time, made lots of rules, you had to work in a certain incubator, etc etc. Did it improve the ethics any? Since the replacements were MBA folks, not really. Did it kill the money? Oftentimes, yes. This is especially important because of the fact that the latest Uber round is extremely extremely dumb money - Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund now has the most money with them. Do they know fuckall about tech startups? I suspect not.

The discussion on HN also notes stringently another aspect of the thing: the corporate hierarchy was a goddamned mess, folks getting hired out of FB and Google trying to backstab each other because they want to get higher in the hierarchy than they were at their previous places, stack ranking like idiots, huge bonuses to the folks at the top of the stack rank also like idiots, etc etc. So the real observation that Kalanick can't manage generally, and this is the douchiest most misogynistic realization of this.
posted by hleehowon at 8:05 PM on February 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Hell, now that I think about it, Saudi Arabian sovereign fund might tell them to be more misogynistic
posted by hleehowon at 8:08 PM on February 19, 2017


eye of newt: Actually, you can delete your Uber account from the website. I set up delete-uber.com to link directly to the account deletion page.
posted by SansPoint at 8:09 PM on February 19, 2017 [22 favorites]


This is my - oh it happened to you too ? face. Even at the end- she appeared unfazed. And good for her- I respect that she made it through a difficult situation. But get back to me on year 10 of this, when someone who does what only 500 other people in the world do- announces how great your boobs are to the (all male) department. And you have a mortgage, and bills to pay. So you accept it and double down on your bourbon consumption. Because HR gives not one tiny shit about anything as long as you don't sue.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 8:11 PM on February 19, 2017 [13 favorites]


This is the side story to the main story of entrenched sexism: while individual HR practitioners can be good people, as a rule of thumb HR are your enemy. They work for the boss and they are not your friend. All engagement with HR has to be from the point of view of following due process you can cite in the event you need to lawyer up, because be assured, that's how they treat engagement with you.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:23 PM on February 19, 2017 [59 favorites]


Do not even entertain passing the blame onto Saudi Arabian funding as a driving force behind this; I saw that on the HN comments too. I've been a woman in male-dominated science and tech fields for nearly 15 years and I'll add my voice to the choir: this shit happens all the DAMN TIME.

The first month of my first real job out of college, an older male colleague IMed me proposing we go to lunch at the local strip club. That's the only company I've worked for that had an effective HR Dept, and he got fired. That was about 10 years ago, and the rest of my working career has been a constant refrain of 'guys, keep it professional'. It is so tiring.

I've always been uncomfortable using Uber, but convenience has won out over my discomfort. This was finally the last straw. Thanks eye of newt for the instructions to delete.
posted by paradeofblimps at 8:40 PM on February 19, 2017 [52 favorites]


Myself and a few of the women who had reported him in the past decided to all schedule meetings with HR to insist that something be done. In my meeting, the rep I spoke with told me that he had never been reported before, he had only ever committed one offense (in his chats with me), and that none of the other women who they met with had anything bad to say about him
And I'll bet dollars to doughnuts HR refused to meet with the women as a group so that they could back each other up.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:54 PM on February 19, 2017 [22 favorites]


This is the reminder I put in every one of these threads that deleting Uber doesn't mean deleting ride-hailing, if you're into ride-hailing. Lyft is in almost every city and has both a better app and a better reputation with workers. And smaller, more local competitors are sprouting up everywhere. (No Lyft in Jerusalem, but Gett works great there.)
posted by escabeche at 8:56 PM on February 19, 2017 [9 favorites]


Where it also means religious divorce.
posted by brujita at 8:59 PM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Do they have an app for that too?
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:01 PM on February 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


Not the least bit surprised, but I'm glad she spoke out (and thank you also to those speaking out in this thread). There are some guys who will never get it, but those who are reachable will hopefully benefit from hearing these stories. (Eventually.)

It's not just about sexism, either -- ageism and racism is also very, very prevalent in the San Francisco startup scene that gave birth to Uber. While there are a lot of amazing people in the SF scene, and a lot of companies genuinely trying to do the right thing, the scene in general still seems to mostly be about smug, privileged, young white guys who are working tirelessly to make the world a better place for smug, privileged, young white guys.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 9:13 PM on February 19, 2017 [23 favorites]


I haven't tried it myself, but black-owned Moovn (I know) has been getting some press.
posted by lazuli at 9:20 PM on February 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


> This is the reminder I put in every one of these threads that deleting Uber doesn't mean deleting ride-hailing, if you're into ride-hailing. Lyft is in almost every city and has both a better app and a better reputation with workers.

I've struggled with this in the sense that lyft has, fundamentally a lot of the same problems that uber has as a start up ride hailing company, but just aren't as starkly naked and aggressive about it (cf: In the original #deleteuber campaign, lyft similarly continued to operate during the strike. Lyft also pulled out of Austin, following Uber when Austin implemented safety regs for ride hailing drivers.)

I deleted uber during that first incident but haven't yet given up lyft and ride hailing in general - uber clearly is the bad boy of the two but Im not convinced lyft is necessarily the "good" alternative.
posted by Karaage at 9:23 PM on February 19, 2017 [11 favorites]


Im not convinced lyft is necessarily the "good" alternative

Lyft is funded by Thiel, if you care about that sort of assholery.
posted by aramaic at 9:38 PM on February 19, 2017 [23 favorites]


See. Not a great alternative. A bit more remote, but the markers are there.
posted by Karaage at 9:42 PM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


carl icahn, trump supporter (and herbalife investor if pyramid schemes piss you off as much as they do me) also put $100 million into lyft.

there basically are no good, usable alternatives to these in most cities, unfortunately.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:45 PM on February 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Austin has plenty. But that's a special case, since those apps sprung up to fill the void left by Uber and Lyft fleeing instead of choosing to comply with regulations.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:46 PM on February 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


I'm so worried. A family member has just started working for the company and I didn't want to say anything about their awful track record because she's a full grown adult and I'm sure she's done her research. I don't want to shit on her excitement for a new job. But man, I'm worried. This didn't help.
posted by greermahoney at 10:23 PM on February 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Im not convinced lyft is necessarily the "good" alternative.

If you are curious which is more driver friendly, Lyft lets you tip the driver in the app. Uber does not. But says somewhere in a FAQ under a sofa that it's totes ok to tip.
posted by zippy at 10:34 PM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Moovn is a black owned business that offers non discriminatory alternative to uber et al
posted by infini at 10:58 PM on February 19, 2017 [13 favorites]


It is instructive to remember that employees are not HR's primary interest; these departments exist to work on behalf of the company.
posted by apranica at 11:00 PM on February 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


Lyft is funded by Thiel, if you care about that sort of assholery.--aramaic

Yeah, but he's just an investor. You'll probably find an asshole investor somewhere in the background of quite a lot of companies. Looking at the Lyft website, it looks like at least 30% of the executive team of Lyft are women.
posted by eye of newt at 11:01 PM on February 19, 2017 [7 favorites]


In London you can use Hailo which uses black cabs
posted by fallingbadgers at 11:06 PM on February 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


while individual HR practitioners can be good people, as a rule of thumb HR are your enemy. They work for the boss and they are not your friend. All engagement with HR has to be from the point of view of following due process you can cite in the event you need to lawyer up, because be assured, that's how they treat engagement with you.

---

It is instructive to remember that employees are not HR's primary interest; these departments exist to work on behalf of the company.


Speaking as someone who works in HR for an institution: both y'all are way mad wrong.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:12 PM on February 19, 2017 [10 favorites]


Your lived experience may be different, EmpressCallipygos, but apranica's mirrors mine and that of many people I have known over the years, some of whom worked in HR.

It may not be universally true, but it is a good working assumption until there's sufficient evidence to indicate otherwise that HR is on the side of capital, not labour.
posted by But tomorrow is another day... at 11:58 PM on February 19, 2017 [55 favorites]


If enough of you tell them that you're switching to Lyft when you delete your accounts, Travis Kalanick will install it and tell women that he did at parties.

Just sayin'.
posted by saysthis at 12:19 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm going to ramble here

It seems to me that there's something bigger happening, much deeper than the visible top layers of new startup news and whatnot i.e. like an undertow in the ocean.

It concerns Management and Labour.

I don't quite have the words or thoughts yet but this has been niggling at me for some days now, particularly when I see all the handwringing articles on Robots and Automation and whether jobless lumpen masses deserve their UBI or should flog themselves as Ubers. Consider this bucket of topics to include all that big data/algorithms/AI stuff

What nobody mentions is that this particular juncture on the development curve of the Industrialization of mankind finally offers Management a chance to free themselves from the nagging whining burdens of having to keep their workers happy enough to keep the production lines humming. Labour demands decent paychecks and toilet breaks and snacks with their chai, among other things.

This is playing out in different geographies of the industrialized world in different flavours, depending on the local approach to social responsibility, the quality and existence of a social safety net, and the specific culture's value system and approach to inclusive and sustainable societal wellbeing.

Consider it a continuum between the two extremes of who the fuck are you of Hayek's neoliberalism as embraced by Thatcher etc and the many variations of the nanny states in the Nordics. (Feel free to tweak my continuum, the point is the range along the belief system of we owe society vs who dis, got mine)

There were social compacts and labour contracts and whatnot that were hard fought and hard won by the factory workers and labourers across these industrialized nations = England's history shows the shift away from 12 hour days and 5 year olds in the mines and mills to weekends in the country for a day trip and schooling until age 14. What we're discussing here is one more such hard won contract/compact from Management, which is not separate from the rest of the history and progress but builds upon the same advances.

Now let's add a disruption to this situational state (which would have peaked in the first half of the 1990s), and that is the evolution and growth of an industry where the entire culture of what was considered "rock star" performance (the hacker, the coder, the AI guru etc) was turned upside down from the buzz cut grey suited rockstars of the organization man era of GM, IBM, and what not. This upturning includes the personal characteristics, the sociability, the expectations - gone were the days when the man and his wife went for the final interview dinner with the bosses for that final Okay.

From this perspective, what is happening now is that there are no frameworks (or fences or seawalls) to hold together the social compact/employment contracts that were hard won by Labour (regardless of gender and according to specifics i.e. differently abled, gender, ethnicity et al) and so you get the motions of what we're reading here, in 2017, which I never faced as a woman and an engineer in Hewlett Packard in 1995 in India.

WTF? What kind of regression is this? And why?

There's no foundation left of old style industrial enterprise (and the attendant dialogues between Management and Labour that led to each of the progresses in working conditions) and there's no tangibility in the new style "unicorn" that can be a viable counterweight to the gravitas of a GM or a GE required to hold together the societal norms and rules of what is decent work, and what does a decent workingperson require, at minimum, to live with dignity.

Instead we have man children with the ability to build a cool blingie piece of shiny crap that makes them overnight sensations with pots of money and expect them to run their companies like mature adults with mutual respect among diverse employees?

And that's why this OP is neither new or a single event, but yet another cobblestone on that very obvious trend. We've got all the FPPs to track the pattern.
posted by infini at 12:32 AM on February 20, 2017 [20 favorites]


The only people in Silicon Valley coordinated enough to blackball anyone is the more connected VC's.

At Google, they have a system that indexes the past work history of every employee. When someone applies for a job at Google, they cross-reference the employer/year data from the applicant's resume, find every current Google employee with overlapping work history, and email them a questionnaire about the candidate.

I worked at Apple for several years before I worked at Google. So every time a candidate had worked at Apple at the same time I had, I'd get this questionnaire. Since Apple and Google are both huge Bay Area companies, I got many questionnaires a week.

The questionnaire asked stuff like:

* Did you know this person at Apple?
- Yes, I was their boss
- Yes, they were my boss
- Yes, co-worker
- Yes, heard of them
- Nope, never heard of them

* How did you like working with them?
1-10 scale

There were 10-15 questions, all basically trying to suss out your relationship with the candidate and their reputation at the previous company.

They also did this for anyone who went to the same college you did.

So that's not blackballing in the traditional sense. And it was probably a decent way to flag both stellar and shitty candidates. I remember there being a special checkbox for "candidate is one of the smartest people I have ever worked with."

But I'm sure it also inadvertently captured data about the candidate's reputation as a 'troublemaker' or 'difficult to work with' or whatever else you call a woman who doesn't put up with your sexist bullshit. I'm not sure if they had any safeguards against it, but knowing Google circa-2010, I'm going to guess "no" and also "it's data and algorithms therefore not sexist."

Not sure if they still use the same system today, but probably.
posted by ryanrs at 12:54 AM on February 20, 2017 [55 favorites]


infini: Startupland is not typical of the rest of America. It's predicated on a fundamentally different compensation scheme: stock options, usually cliffed and vesting. So calling it such a strict difference between management and labor is difficult. She has a Stanford affiliation: with that credential and basically that credential alone she could get a small seed round with some college friend or something. I've seen folks hired straight into VC associate jobs with basically her credentials. So it's definitely not the case that she can be fitted definitely and forever into the "labor" slot, although right now and right here she is.

You could probably also argue against this being the normative situation with labor because starting pay for Uber folks is $150k and about the same again in options, although the options are incredibly illiquid. That's definitely more "junior-junior-mid analyst at ibank" money than "working at the mill making pants" money. Probably a few ranks up it gets to >500k in total comp (large part of that illiquid options).

I also highly suspect that you have a rose-colored glasses view of IBM and GM and those companies. To be an employee (a real full employee) of same at the midcentury mark, you were basically sort of expected to be a man. You were expected, as a man, to have a wife. It was basically considered acceptable to sexually harass your secretary. You were expected, as a man with a wife, to live exactly as everyone else in the suburb created for the company. So a coherent way that midcentury IBM would've treated her would be, "women can't work except as secretaries, if they're unmarried. we'll marry you off to an IBM man. engineer? fuck off". With the obvious and successful and just rebellion against that came a large increase in labor supply. Supply and demand, unfortunately, work with labor and labor's bargaining position was not improved. So the framework was held together by racism and sexism and those things.

I don't think history improves, it just turns different.
posted by hleehowon at 1:11 AM on February 20, 2017 [8 favorites]


I have worked at all flavors of giant tech company and startup, as have my friends of various genders, and I have never even heard of shit as bad as her stories of Uber. It looks like Uber has really taken this bullshit to a new level.
posted by w0mbat at 1:13 AM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


I also highly suspect that you have a rose-colored glasses view of IBM and GM and those companies. To be an employee (a real full employee) of same at the midcentury mark, you were basically sort of expected to be a man. You were expected, as a man, to have a wife. It was basically considered acceptable to sexually harass your secretary. You were expected, as a man with a wife, to live exactly as everyone else in the suburb created for the company. So a coherent way that midcentury IBM would've treated her would be, "women can't work except as secretaries, if they're unmarried. we'll marry you off to an IBM man. engineer? fuck off". With the obvious and successful and just rebellion against that came a large increase in labor supply. Supply and demand, unfortunately, work with labor and labor's bargaining position was not improved. So the framework was held together by racism and sexism and those things.

Not the rose coloured so much as probably swallowing half the words to clarify knowing this. The point is that it was the same struggle for the social compacts and work conditions that led to the changes in equal opportunity and the ERA and the NOW, which peaked, as I said, in the early 1990s.

Startupland might be a cute little bubble with it's privilege and money, but it's subject to the same HR and employment regulations and laws as the rest of the country. Unless that changed in the last 12 years since I lived in SFO?
posted by infini at 1:14 AM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


Otoh, we have global proof that no country's employment laws and worker protections apply to Uber.
posted by infini at 1:16 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Same HR and employment regulations, yes. Same relation between management and labor, no.
posted by hleehowon at 1:18 AM on February 20, 2017


there's no tangibility in the new style "unicorn" that can be a viable counterweight to the gravitas of a GM or a GE required to hold together the societal norms and rules of what is decent work, and what does a decent workingperson require, at minimum, to live with dignity.

Uber is an 8 year old, 60 billion dollar company that may not exist in 8 years unless it successfully obsoletes its employees. (Naked Capitalism has been running a great series on how the economic of Uber don't work --- they're still subsidising up to 60% of ride cost. Can't seem to link on my phone.)

My point is, that's a part of this, too --- the tech world seems to go through this pattern where a new niche is developed, a bunch of companies are launched to exploit it, and 5 years in one of them has successfully emerged as a monopoly and the rest are dead. Everybody gets away with treating their employees like shit in the beginning because they're small and new a clueless and when those options vest you'll make bank so really it's like you're capital, too, if you don't stop and don't think about it. And then the winner gets away with treating its employees like shit because whaddya gonna do, if you want to do X they're the only shop...The Victorians had mad hustle, but even as they rushed to conquer they made sure that they built to last. When they dreamed of dominion they thought in decades and centuries. I don't think the Kalaniks do, because they don't think the think the thing they're currently trying to dominate will still exist in 20 years. King of the mountain on a hill of sand. So why not burn 'em all on the way up? There is no future in which I will need you, says the robot-builder.
posted by Diablevert at 1:26 AM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


I also suspect the timing of the social compacts and the working conditions. Unions in America faced and still face a huge and steep decline after their backs were broken by Reagan, even though they had faced some decline for decades before then. The 30's to 50's were the top years for worker's rights in America, but they were certainly not the top years for human rights in America. So I disagree with the claim that the struggle for social compacts and work conditions were a causative factor in the civil rights we got.
posted by hleehowon at 1:27 AM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


Same HR and employment regulations, yes. Same relation between management and labor, no.

Yes, exactly. The so called 4th industrial revolution has created a whole new operating environment, and there's a transitional period between the employee/business relationship and expectations of old, and the ones emerging in the new. This is the now which carries within it both the inherent tension between the aims of teh company and the needs of the employee, as well as the push and pull between the infrastructural institutions of old and the intangible intellectual ones of the new.

Should labour laws change and adapt to the new context?
posted by infini at 1:42 AM on February 20, 2017


How are civil rights different from worker's rights? (serious question from a very different operating environment and economic ideology) In this regard, from the PoV of women.
posted by infini at 1:45 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


I have heard people talk about the relief from providing pensions, cafeterias, toilets etc as robots take over factories and don't go on strikes. This might still work in the rich world, but it's even more dangerous in the still industrializing developing world.

I don't know if the above falls under management and labour or women with Stanford degrees but I do know that the push for this is coming from teh same startupland bubble world.
posted by infini at 1:48 AM on February 20, 2017


Women can have bank accounts and can initiate divorces -> civil right, not very much a worker's right
Women can have abortions -> 100% civil right 0% worker's right
Redlining to discriminate in housing is illegal -> nearly all civil right
Ending segregation -> solidly mostly civil right
8-hour day, what's left of it -> nearly all worker's right
Worker's compensation -> worker's right
Minimum wage -> mostly worker's right
Union collective bargaining -> 100% worker's right 0% civil right
posted by hleehowon at 1:49 AM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


Of course some of those are incomplete (end of redlining and segregation) and not likely to advance under Trump and some are definitely not clear victories or defeats (Worker's comp)
posted by hleehowon at 1:50 AM on February 20, 2017


So, whatever future scenarios regarding the whole topic of employment, decent work, global digital whatsits, is going to have to be considered most stringently in the context of the operating environment and cannot be handwaved away. Far too many social, cultural, human factors act as decision driving forces on the outcomes - from both the policy and the individual company perspective.

Thank you hleehowon, this has been most helpful for me to clarify.
posted by infini at 2:05 AM on February 20, 2017


Yet, when I look at your list of rights, from the perspective of being a working woman, I do ask whether it was not until I was considered a person in my own right (bank account, divorce, family planning etc) that I could have gotten protection from sexual harassment in the workplace where I had the equal right to be in. Mayhaps I'm confusing legal definitions from meatspace reality..
posted by infini at 2:08 AM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't think you're thinking big enough, hleehowon. Almost all the progress we have made on human rights as a species has come in the context of the industrial revolution. The concept of progress as a thing we ought to be having some of has come in the context of the industrial revolution. Mid-20th century civil rights movement may have operated independently from the labor movement of that era. But the huge disruption of Western societies that began in the 18th century as industrialisation began and took hold through the 19th seems to me to be part of the springboard for the idea of social movements at all....the abolition of slavery cannot be untangled from the progress of industrilization. Women's rights cannot be untangled from the progress of industrialisation.

De-industrialisation may be as profound....people enjoyed Downton Abbey as a viewing experience, don't know how they're going to dig it as a lived one. But "farmer" and "servant" have been the job descriptions for about 95% of humankind for 99% of human history, and we're not getting farmer back...
posted by Diablevert at 2:08 AM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


It's really important to remember that this isn't an Uber problem, it's an industry problem. This is really fucking egregious, yes; but literally all of the women i know who work in the industry have at least one really horrific story, and most of them have too many to count.

A-fucking-men, says this woman in IT who has lived the same things as Fowler practically to the letter. The biggest change would be to the leather jacket experience, but everything else is basically identical. In my case the performance review was so laughable that I still remember the instant I knew I would quit:
Manager: "It is entirely unacceptable that you didn't deliver a strategy for version 2.3 of application Foo!"
Me, calm because I've been through hell and back and nothing fazes me any more: "Ah there's probably a misunderstanding – there was no Foo V2.3. Was it V2.2 that they decided to postpo..."
Manager, interrupting: "YOU HAVE A HUGE PROBLEM WITH PERFECTIONISM AND TALKING BACK STOP GOING INTO POINTLESS DETAIL"

o-kay all-righty then well I won't be dealing with y'all much longer after this! I mean, y'know, quality assurance is just my job! literally! as in I'm an actual manager of functional tests aka software quality assurance!

the blocking of transfers and the thing with the jackets. Do they think people are their prisoners so they can just make things incredibly illogical and shitty and people will still stay?

I finally read a book that helped me put this sort of thing in context: those of us with a conscience tend to project our own conscience onto those who don't have one. Put in other words, we assume good faith. (The book is In Sheep's Clothing by George K. Simon Jr.) Part of this includes that we assume if people are being jerks, there is a conscientious-related reason behind it that they just haven't understood, and/or they've been through some traumatic or other experience in their life that has put them out of whack. The gist of it being, we assume that, like ourselves, people just need to see the light.

Here's the thing. There are also people who have been through no trauma, but have consistently made life choices that shirk responsibility, for which they have faced little to no consequence. As a result, these people continue behaving like assholes, which they know they're being because people tell them and they don't care (this is a "little" consequence to them). Why don't they care? Here's where it meets with corporate values: because their behavior maximizes profit, which is synonymous with power.

If people quit, in their minds they can replace them. And cheaper! New hires go through the same wringer, it takes a year or two to figure it out (isolation and gaslighting work wonders), they then quit, they get replaced. But here's the twisted genius: there are only consequences for management when the people who leave and talk about this nonsense are taken seriously. In this case, it is awesome to see she's being taken seriously. Because guess which groups usually aren't taken seriously! That's right, women and minorities. So management can count on a core group who will stay because they feel "better than," which is supported and echoed by pretty much the entire goddamned fucking society.

Misogyny and racism are used as tools by these corporate jerks to get whatever they want and pull the wool over the eyes of anyone who might question them. Bonus: white dudes who stay with them going "oh it's just women/minorities, and I'm being paid better, that'll never happen to me," so they stay and the vicious shit cycle just gets shittier while profits are raked in.

If white dudes are worried about their jobs and salaries, they're absolutely right to be – they're being played too, they just don't wholly see it because other groups have it worse. For things to improve, we need genuine equality, and to focus on the actual problems, which are management styles that do this stuff on purpose, for calculated reasons that are not for the welfare of anyone but themselves (except insofar as they need to be able to point to exceptions to make themselves look good).
posted by fraula at 2:24 AM on February 20, 2017 [69 favorites]




i haven't read all the comments here because i got 3 very short paragraphs into her article and already wanted throw up.

i jsut went back to count.

NINE sentences in I was like WAT. and immediately felt that this was that stomach pit of fear that i think most women know and can never adequately explain to anyone who hasn't felt it.

ugh. this is not going to get better is it?
posted by sio42 at 4:39 AM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


and nope it did it not. holy fuck.
posted by sio42 at 4:45 AM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


I doubt the rot described in tfa is contained to issues of discrimination and protecting harassers, too: wanna bet that "high performer" basically means "frat brother"? Or "Stanford MBA classmate"? With the same protection from consequences that we see here, but for just plain incompetence or laziness.
posted by thelonius at 4:55 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Man, I don't know why the thing with the leather jackets makes me so angry but that is just such fucking bullshit.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:19 AM on February 20, 2017 [12 favorites]


It's really important to remember that this isn't an Uber problem, it's an industry problem. This is really fucking egregious, yes; but literally all of the women i know who work in the industry have at least one really horrific story, and most of them have too many to count.

Which industries? Is it all industries? It is, isn't it?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:21 AM on February 20, 2017


It is all industries where money is being made in enormous quantities.
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:35 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


"It's the first time this has come to my attention"

Funny, that's what the underlings in HR said, too!
posted by drlith at 5:39 AM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: In what ways are we "mad wrong" for our experiences of HR being a tool of the company and not a tool for employees?
posted by XtinaS at 5:55 AM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]



It is all industries where money is being made in enormous quantities.


I've worked in nonprofit and educational institutions my entire working life and, while it hasn't been a bed of roses, I've never encountered this particular brand of asshole.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:59 AM on February 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


HR should be protecting the company from hostile workplace suits, from losing valuable employees to harassment, and from negative PR. I understand why she didn't sue their asses, but at least she hurt them on the second two points.
posted by chrchr at 6:15 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


That downgraded performance review is crap. After she fought back on the claim of no upward career trajectory, they came back with needing to prove herself as an engineer, which she was already doing by participating in the Uber sponsored Stanford CS graduate program. But after downgrading her review, she could no longer participate in the degree program, making it that much harder to prove herself.

A Stanford CS degree is huge and they dropped her out of the program. On top of the sexism, this denial of access to engineering opportunities is another way that keeps women from advancing. I've been fortunate in my tech career to have supportive male colleagues who help advance my career instead of hoarding the goodies for themselves. I wish my experience was the rule rather than the exception.
posted by hoppytoad at 6:30 AM on February 20, 2017 [21 favorites]


Ugh, I really don't want to go back to using taxis, but maybe I need to for ethical reasons? (I've had so many incidents over the years when I called for a cab and it just didn't come.)
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:05 AM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Every single person I know in tech who is not a cis, white, hetero male has a story like this. Some are worse.
posted by hijinx at 7:08 AM on February 20, 2017 [11 favorites]


I've worked in nonprofit and educational institutions my entire working life and, while it hasn't been a bed of roses, I've never encountered this particular brand of asshole.

Then I have to assume you're a man. :-/
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:01 AM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


adrienneleigh: I suppose this is my fault for posting and then immediately going to bed, but yeah, that was sarcasm. Travis Kalanick is pretty well-known as a giant douche, even in an industry where sexist douchery is common. Sorry for any misunderstanding.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:08 AM on February 20, 2017 [9 favorites]


Speaking as someone who works in HR for an institution: both y'all are way mad wrong.

Speaking as someone who has interacted with HR in a (non-profit) institution - they are way mad right. HR exists in a lot of companies as a way to provide interference and plausible deniability to the people making decisions. They are not there in any way to address issues of performance from managers. If they were, my former boss would have been fired eons ago, but she has now worked there in spire of consistent abuse of staff for almost two decades.

Barring special circumstances, HR is not your friend.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 8:17 AM on February 20, 2017 [27 favorites]


Per Diablevert's comment above, here's the Naked Capitalism series:

Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part One - Understanding Uber's Bleak Operating Economics
posted by cenoxo at 8:28 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


HR should be protecting the company from hostile workplace suits, from losing valuable employees to harassment, and from negative PR. I understand why she didn't sue their asses, but at least she hurt them on the second two points.

I'm curious about how come this story blew up in Uber's face (recent track record?) while the earlier problems that the lady from the VC wrote about didn't harm the company involved.

A Stanford CS degree is huge and they dropped her out of the program. On top of the sexism, this denial of access to engineering opportunities is another way that keeps women from advancing. I've been fortunate in my tech career to have supportive male colleagues who help advance my career instead of hoarding the goodies for themselves. I wish my experience was the rule rather than the exception.

This has very deliberately been done to me. As an employee of a university, I was eligible for free classes , which I'd take in the evening, but after getting straight As, even with my workload, the male boss who had to sign off permission denied it for the critical core curriculum neccessary to complete the degree. iirc he said "Oh, are you eligible for the program?" to the Director of Admissions. He was the one who'd offered me the job instead when I'd come for my student interview.
posted by infini at 8:28 AM on February 20, 2017 [12 favorites]


The thing with the jackets...it is almost impressive that they even considered ordering women's jackets before deciding it would be a great way to punish the women for being women. Usually, things just get ordered in men's cuts and sizes. I think I have been given 2 women's cut shirts in close to two decades of getting shirts at work. The excuse "oh they are unisex". No. They are men's shirts.

I finally just started refusing to take them, even when they are meant to be worn for some lame "teambuilding" event and claim it would be "environmentally irresponsible for me to take a shirt I will only wear a couple hours then throw away because I am female and *I do not wear men's shirts*". I really don't care if it gets me labeled as a troublemaker. This is my hill, I shall die here.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 8:46 AM on February 20, 2017 [38 favorites]


Then I have to assume you're a man. :-/

Um, from what they've posted, I've always been under the impression that soren_lorensen is a woman. So maybe don't assume so much?
posted by conic at 8:57 AM on February 20, 2017


DHH: Deleting Uber is the least you can do
posted by kuatto at 9:00 AM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


Conic- duly noted. Profile view was the (admittedly narrow) scope of my review, and that did not reveal sufficiently specific gender confirmation either way. My bad.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:34 AM on February 20, 2017


Uber's entire business plan is: "Fuck Laws". Why should it be surprising that "Fuck Laws" is also their HR policy?
posted by sideshow at 10:22 AM on February 20, 2017 [22 favorites]


I really hope someone figures out how to do ride sharing. I have a vision impairment and I don't drive. I use public transportation almost exclusively. Ride sharing has measurably improved my life. I probably use it once a week when I really need to get somewhere and can't spend an hour on the bus. Like Alluring Mouthbreather, as much as I would like to support taxis, they're just not reliable.
posted by chrchr at 10:30 AM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


zeynep

Another hint about Uber was their data blog post where they wondered if "peak prostitution" rides were due to timing of "welfare checks."
and
I am shocked, shocked to read this about a company whose data science team once boasted about mapping one-night stands from rides. Shocked.
posted by infini at 10:43 AM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


HR exists in a lot of companies as a way to provide interference and plausible deniability to the people making decisions. They are not there in any way to address issues of performance from managers.

In a lot of companies it has devolved to that, yes. That is a BAD department. It doesn't have to be like that, and it isn't that way by design.

A good HR department knows the best way to keep management out of trouble is to keep management from causing trouble. Where I work, you better believe when an employee is complaining about me, HR is more on my case than the employee's. I better be squeaky fucking clean, and even then (because I usually am) I sometimes have to insist on my right as a manager to manage the way I want. If anything, HR would have me be too conflict-avoidant to be effective.

A good HR department will agitate to fucking get rid of managers who are threatening the company, not keep going through all the trouble to pull them out of the fire.

A good senior management knows that HR is supposed to push back on dumb ideas and conflict with them is inevitable. They should be listened to and win when it makes sense. They should not be a puppet of the CEO and especially not the lower-level management.

You may be thinking of Legal. /s
posted by ctmf at 10:44 AM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


In other words, my HR team is not helping me if they're letting me do dumb stuff and protecting me from the result. That's not exactly the same thing as being on the employee's side, but it has that fortunate side effect a lot.
posted by ctmf at 10:53 AM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


soren_lorensen wrote, emphasis mine: I've worked in nonprofit and educational institutions my entire working life and, while it hasn't been a bed of roses, I've never encountered this particular brand of asshole.

I've also worked in nonprofit and educational institutions for (most of) my entire working life, and I have also not encountered this particular brand of asshole. Other varieties, including harassing and backstabbing, sure. But not quite like this.
posted by Lexica at 11:01 AM on February 20, 2017


Amazing comment by fraula. Sounds like I should read that book. Before I completely stopped trusting my manager, I also let him play on my impostor syndrome. I'm more used to mentors and managers who will try to help you grow into a confident, skilled employee who can take on more responsibilities and do great work. Unfortunately that left me completely unprepared when I encountered someone who will prey on any insecurities, and because I'm a woman society has done its best to give me plenty. If you don't think you're good at the work, it's much easier to keep you in a toxic environment because you don't feel qualified for the other tech job postings where they're looking for a ninja rockstar expert hacker (super common in tech, of course, and there's also this effect).

It's less obvious than changing the review sneakily after the fact and disqualifying you from a sponsored CS degree. But it's there in the performance reviews and elsewhere. This manager would write down things like I still need to work on my coding skills, despite never being on my code reviews and never actually seeing my code or even asking me about it because he couldn't be bothered, based on an assumption he made when I was hired because it had been a while since I used the language that we use. As an echo to fraula's experience, when I responded to this criticism, he said "you don't like getting feedback, do you?" (and I'm in test too). Middling performance reviews also limit my ability to transfer out of this toxic team internally.

I could keep going--I've had important information withheld from me because it "wouldn't affect my part of the project", while at the same time being given the feedback that I should be taking more initiative and finding more responsibilities outside of my regular ones. I've been asked to plan the team outing, which the manager is definitely supposed to do. I've been stuck taking notes during meetings. And amen to the piles and piles of goddamn unisex t-shirts.
posted by j.r at 11:02 AM on February 20, 2017 [12 favorites]


Given Travis Kalanick's response, she should say "Oh, great. Here are the names of the manager that propositioned me, the managers and directors that blocked my transfers and the HR staff that were complicit."
While I love a good old name-and-shame, I don't want to "should" a victim. She's doing the best she can with what she has.

I've worked in nonprofit and educational institutions my entire working life and, while it hasn't been a bed of roses, I've never encountered this particular brand of asshole.
I've worked in academia my whole life and I very much have encountered this particular brand of asshole. I was talking to a friend, and he pointed out: all these people in Silicon Valley have to come from somewhere. Lots and lots of them come from Stanford or other institutes of higher education; lots of them have PhDs. Stanford in particular; well, they don't exactly have the best "not rape culture" track record, do they? And if that's what their students are doing, what do we think the faculty there are up to?

Toxic patriarchy is toxic. It's everywhere. It's particularly worse in some places. Some academic or non profit institutions probably do more to foster it than others, but no industry is immune.
posted by sockermom at 11:09 AM on February 20, 2017 [10 favorites]


It is instructive to remember that employees are not HR's primary interest; these departments exist to work on behalf of the company.

That was certainly the case when I worked in HR. It was incredibly stressful, and I was very happy when I found something else and was able to move on.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:12 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


It's really important to remember that this isn't an Uber problem, it's an industry problem
Not to whitewash the industry or SV, but I believe Uber is way, way worse than the average SV startup.
posted by usertm at 12:33 PM on February 20, 2017


> Not to whitewash the industry or SV, but I believe Uber is way, way worse than the average SV startup.

Hard data is obviously difficult to come by, but I've been in this industry for about 15 years my experience is that companies that treat women fairly are the exception, not the rule.
posted by jacobian at 12:38 PM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think it's important to remember that HR folks naturally interact more with managers and senior leaders. They thus naturally bond with and have relationships with ... the managers. It is a natural human tendency to support and more easily believe people you spend time with and that you have closer working relationships. It's thus possible for an HR person to truly and genuinely believe they respond to reports of mismanagement and abuse fairly and yet still seemingly protect bad managers. There's not this either-or where HR people are consciously choosing to protect abusers, working for the good of the company at the expense of "regular" employees. They can really believe they are putting employee needs first (because it genuinely would serve the best interests of the company!) but because they are more likely to believe managers they can discount signs of problems. After a while, they've been hearing for a long time from a manager (and all his/her peers) that so-and-so is a problem and so reports from so-and-so (whose hit a breaking point) are not believed. So even when an HR organization is trying to stop abuse (as does not really appear to be the case with Uber), they can inadvertently allow and ignore abuse.
posted by R343L at 12:49 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think the difference between the "Watch out, HR only looks out for management and the company" and "No, HR always looks out for the employee" is the management of the company and what they are directing HR to do. In the case of Uber, the directive is to quash complaints of harassment. In the cases where people are saying HR would never be like that, their experience is probably from a company that actually cares about the employees and HR is there to keep the management and the company accountable.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 1:02 PM on February 20, 2017


I don't think I've read another one of these stories in which the victim shows the kind of strategic intelligence and unshakable aplomb that just seems to come natural to Susan J Fowler; she had them on the defensive literally from day one, and they never did recover their balance.

And though retribution does not appear to show up on any list of objectives, I would say vengeance will be hers -- and I'll find that very satisfying even if she does not.

I wish I'd known about her learn physics project, I'd have tried to follow along.
posted by jamjam at 1:52 PM on February 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


I think it's important to remember that HR folks naturally interact more with managers and senior leaders. They thus naturally bond with and have relationships with ... the managers. It is a natural human tendency to support and more easily believe people you spend time with and that you have closer working relationships.

But in this case she had emails and chat logs for many or most of the incidents, right? I mean, it wasn't an issue of whether to believe her or not. HR knew that she was telling the truth and still couldn't be bothered to do anything, which ultimately did hurt the company. First, because they lost lots of good employees. Second, because this sort of nonsense lowers morale and impacts productivity for employees who stay. Third, because the company was exposed to legal and reputational risk. Everyone is saying HR only exists to protect the company, and that's true, but Uber's HR didn't even do that. They were too much a part of a sexist corporate culture.

Also, as someone else above pointed out, HR should have realized from exit interviews and employee statistics that they were rapidly losing women employees due to a hostile environment even without knowing anything about the particular incidents reported by this one employee.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 1:53 PM on February 20, 2017 [12 favorites]


I think the difference between the "Watch out, HR only looks out for management and the company" and "No, HR always looks out for the employee" is the management of the company and what they are directing HR to do.

And what a lot of us are saying is that it's not safe to assume that you work for the latter given what will happen if you make that assumption but work for the former.
posted by winna at 1:58 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


And regardless of which flavour of HR, one would assume their role included retention of talent?
posted by infini at 2:24 PM on February 20, 2017


And regardless of which flavour of HR, one would assume their role included retention of talent?

In this case they were told to retain the dude because he knew things and was a high performer. Unsaid but also true, I'm sure if he had been fired he had allies that made it known they'd not work with a woman and would also leave. They (Uber) seems to have built the company around a few people that refuse to train and share knowledge and when you're a startup you can't afford to lose the key group that's keeping the lights on.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 2:39 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm watching NBC Nightly News cover this story at the moment and they just said that Uber has hired Eric Holder (as in, the former U.S. Attorney General) to oversee the internal investigation.
posted by XMLicious at 3:45 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is the first hit Google News gives me to confirm it; "independent review" is the term they're using for what Holder will be doing (which is probably what the news said too and I memory-garbled it.) The above link contains the text of the memo announcing it from Kalanick.
posted by XMLicious at 3:53 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


I know Susan Fowler. She's just as brilliant and strong as this article makes her seem.
posted by meese at 3:54 PM on February 20, 2017 [11 favorites]


What infuriates me about these issues is that when they become public companies are willing to throw a fortune at them to make it look like they take it seriously. It would be so much bloody cheaper to just do the right thing in the first place, but inevitably institutions of all sorts seem to go down the most torturous, unfair, and expensive path possible.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:27 PM on February 20, 2017 [24 favorites]


And here I was refusing to use Uber all this time because of the shitty ways they treat their drivers.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:36 PM on February 20, 2017 [8 favorites]


I think the difference between the "Watch out, HR only looks out for management and the company" and "No, HR always looks out for the employee" is the management of the company and what they are directing HR to do.

You realize that if that's true, the second type of HR is also the first type of HR, right?
posted by Etrigan at 4:59 PM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


This is incredibly horrible. I am a white cis man, and I'm trying really hard to imagine what it would me like to experience something like that. I don't think I can really grok it, but it makes me feel sick and angry.

As per the solution to Uber being horrible, what about someone doing taxis well? I haven't heard much about that idea.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:27 PM on February 20, 2017


What got me is that after Slap-in-the-Face round XXIV she mentions that she cried, as if this was an unusual reaction for her, whereas I'd have been rage-weeping after the first meeting with HR. Tough lady.
posted by um at 5:38 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


My experience in tech was shaped a lot (for the better) by women in tech firms in the late 90s. I asked them a little while back whether it was better for them in the 90s, and maybe the Great Bro-ing of tech happened afterwards. They collectively sighed and said "oh, you have no idea how bad it was." It is important to know such things.
posted by holgate at 11:14 PM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


A comment on the Ars Technica article about this:
In a sense the job of HR is to protect the company. It's never to protect the employee. Be that as it may the bumble-fuckery involved here is so great I don't see how HR did either here.
posted by XtinaS at 4:48 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


As an aside, I find the questions about how to get around fascinating because the whole debate about services like Uber and Lyft is so classist. I travel all the time for my job, with an air trip about weekly. If I'm going to a major urban area with good public transit, that's my favorite. I just get a transit pass. This is unfortunately a short list - NYC, DC, SF, Chicago, Philly, and I live in a city with good transit also. I think that the real solution to all the questions about how to get around inside a city is to strengthen public transit, because that benefits everyone. I'm also excited about the increase in ease of renting a bike in various places (I can't ride anymore due to a physical disability, but if someone offers me a cure I'll be back on my bike instantly) and I would love to see more bike infrastructure as well. I know there are a lot of problems with harassment on public transit since I've been using it since age 14 and am a woman, but stuff like Uber, especially with their terrible treatment of employees at multiple levels, does not seem like a good answer to that.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:13 AM on February 21, 2017 [10 favorites]


I just get a transit pass.

Yep. My city has at least two worker-owned traditional taxi companies with their own smartphone apps, and they look like they'll do most of what Lyft and Uber do.

I just haven't gotten around to trying them, because every time I'm in a situation it might be useful I decide I'm too cheap for that and hop on a bus or train or my bicycle instead.
posted by asperity at 6:22 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Uber’s privatised transportation system may do more harm than good if cities allow public transport to deteriorate


hey guys, look, you don't need to spend on public infra used by the poors anymore, we just make them drive each other around in cattle cars
posted by infini at 6:28 AM on February 21, 2017 [9 favorites]


As an aside, I find the questions about how to get around fascinating because the whole debate about services like Uber and Lyft is so classist. I travel all the time for my job, with an air trip about weekly. If I'm going to a major urban area with good public transit, that's my favorite. I just get a transit pass. This is unfortunately a short list - NYC, DC, SF, Chicago, Philly, and I live in a city with good transit also.

I'm one of the people who lamented not being able to use Uber because I have found it reliable (as opposed to taxis). I have also been riding the bus since I was 13 and take it to work every day. I really don't need a lecture on the importance of mass transit. Sometimes, a point-to-point trip in a car is the best option because of a tight schedule, need to take lots of luggage, travel at times when the transit isn't running or is running at a reduced schedule, or because you are traveling to or from a spot that isn't well served by transit. I also know that my mom doesn't use mass transit because waiting outside, particularly in the winter, doesn't work with her disability.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 10:09 AM on February 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


So Uber's HR behaves likes rest of the company.

And what's going on with that first manager?!?!?!?! "I'll propose to my new employee to be part of an open relationship I supposedly have with my wife, after all it's a totally legit thing to do to an employee and there's totally a chance she'll say yes.".... how does your brain ever forms that thought??!?! The only reason to do this at work is that you planned to abuse your authority, and that makes you a vile POS.
posted by coust at 11:32 AM on February 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


Reading stories like this, it amazes me that the American economy does not collapse out of sheer dysfunction:
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 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!).

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.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 1:02 PM on February 22, 2017 [4 favorites]




An Open Letter to The Uber Board and Investors from early investors Mitch & Freada Kapor
We are disappointed to see that Uber has selected a team of insiders to investigate its destructive culture and make recommendations for change. To us, this decision is yet another example of Uber’s continued unwillingness to be open, transparent, and direct.
posted by ASCII Costanza head at 3:26 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Waymo sues Uber and Otto over alleged self-driving tech theft.

I think I have the schadenfreude.
posted by roolya_boolya at 5:01 PM on February 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


Mitch Kapor is a super cool guy. One of the East Coast tech OGs, EFF founder, and formidable Computer Bowl contestant.
posted by rhizome at 8:04 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Mitch Kapor is a super cool guy. One of the East Coast tech OGs

Seconded. He and Freada have been around long enough to know what's what. But it will take OG early investors actually pulling their investments from Uber -- even if it requires lawyering up and incurring huge paper losses on its current valuation -- to make that point, if "hey, angel investor here, pick up the damn phone" doesn't make a difference. They literally own a chunk of this shit.
posted by holgate at 10:51 PM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


Susan Fowler on Twitter: Research for the smear campaign has begun. If you are contacted by anyone asking for personal and intimate info about me, please report asap.
posted by rada at 1:40 PM on February 25, 2017 [9 favorites]


Jalopnik: Uber Is Doomed
posted by octothorpe at 8:12 AM on February 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


"If something cannot go on for ever, it will stop."

Rusty Foster compared Uber to Kozmo, one of the most notorious dot-com busts: people loved the service, but the practices dictated by a giant pile of VC cash instead of working out what was necessary to build a sustainable business (delivery fees!) and doing it.

The question is whether public authorities, having already been brow-beaten into legalising ride-sharing services, will have already deferred or diverted transit funding to them by the time the wheels come off.
posted by holgate at 8:51 AM on February 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Jalopnik: Uber Is Doomed

Consider how much blood, sweat, and VC capital has been shed just because taxi companies didn't want smartphone apps.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:46 AM on February 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


Taxi companies were horrible and useless for actually trying to get anywhere at any specific time. My wife doesn't drive and given the spotty nature of Pittsburgh bus service, tried to use Yellow Cab for years and had nothing but frustration dealing with them. Uber obviously isn't the answer in the long term but there's still a market for some kind of taxi system that works.
posted by octothorpe at 11:26 AM on February 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oh, no argument on that front. But from a certain remove this entire thing seems like a case study in what happens when an industry refuses/can’t move with the times. Jalopnik goes a bit far, I think, by quoting folks who consider Ubers and Taxis to at this point be essentially identical from a user experience standpoint. (They aren’t.) But if Uber’s big innovations are a smartphone app and a lot more drivers, well, it seems like the industry should have done that itself.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:55 AM on February 26, 2017


Uber only opened the door, they don't own the building. I waiting for years for something to replace the taxi system here, and Uber did it, but it's not a hard technological problem to solve.
posted by rhizome at 12:01 PM on February 26, 2017


Consider how much blood, sweat, and VC capital has been shed just because taxi companies didn't want smartphone apps.

This isn't completely fair, because taxi companies also didn't want to increase the number of taxis on the road.
posted by rhizome at 12:02 PM on February 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


rhizome: "This isn't completely fair, because taxi companies also didn't want to increase the number of taxis on the road."

Or show up when they said they would. Or go to black neighborhoods. Or take credit cards. Or want to go anywhere but between downtown hotels and the airport. Or not pick you up in scary broken-down taxis that smelled like smoke. Etc.
posted by octothorpe at 1:45 PM on February 26, 2017 [5 favorites]


The thing that makes taxis shitty and Uber good is endless VC money. That is is all. 60% of the ride is subsidised.

Or in other words, if you wanted regular taxis to come as quickly and be as nice as Ubers are, then the 3 mile ride you're currently paying $10 would cost you $25.

Of course, if it cost $25, far fewer people could afford it. The margins in the traditional taxi industry aren't great, especially for the drivers, and nothing uber has done has reduced the costs of driving a cab. The whole bet was that by making it easier to order one and drive one, you could vastly increase the supply of drivers. And that's probably worked some...but the more drivers you have the less money they make. A nice app isn't enough to change the economic fundamentals of the industry. You can see that in the simple fact that they're still losing money in established markets.

If Wile E. Kalanik can keep running in mid-air long enough for them to get a self-driving car working, that could change the fundamentals; eliminate labour and you save a huge chunk. But in the abscence of that they're fucked, and we'll be back to the regular taxi industry, but with an app.
posted by Diablevert at 9:59 AM on February 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


The thing that makes taxis shitty and Uber good is endless VC money. That is is all. 60% of the ride is subsidised.

While this is true, the other thing that Uber does is bypass the taxi medallion monopoly. When I talk to my taxi/uber/lyft/juno drivers in NYC, the vast majority of them rent their cars. The first does it from medallion owners, who have bid up the prices to absurd degrees, and rent them out for insane prices. Many of the latter rent from fleet owners, who offer more flexibility and less onerous terms. I'd say that the overwhelming majority of drivers have been former taxi drivers who did the math and decided that Juno, in particular, works better for them.

Granted, I don't want to see one monopoly replaced by another, but I do think there's a way for such services to be done "well." Just not by Uber.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:47 AM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


Not (directly) related to the harrassment and discrimination against Fowler, but: Uber’s SVP of engineering is out after he did not disclose he left Google in a dispute over sexual harassment allegation.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:14 PM on February 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


Another anonymous account: I am an Uber survivor. A similar pattern:
I complained to the HR department two times about this behavior. Interestingly, I got the same response from them that Susan mentioned in her story. They kept telling me that they really appreciate my guts to come forward but that this was the first complaint they received about him and that he is highly valuable to Travis. I was told to continue putting in my best efforts and keep him happy so that my performance reviews will be in good shape.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:40 PM on February 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


Just deleted my uber app and listed these think pieces as the reason. The alternatives (Lyft, Moovn) aren't perfect, but I hope the #deleteuber blood in the water puts some fear of god into Uber that will spread across the tech industry.

edit: the additional account linked in Kyle's comment above wasn't working for me, here is a link that works.
posted by Emily's Fist at 8:53 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


(ah, I had trimmed off the tracking tag from the end of the URL but accidentally cut one character too far; thanks for the fixup.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:11 AM on February 28, 2017


While this is true, the other thing that Uber does is bypass the taxi medallion monopoly.

A-yup. At least part of the reason that there weren’t more cabs is that people weren’t allowed to provide more cabs.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:20 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


… in other words, Uber’s big innovation, besides apps and money, was crime! But a crime that it turns out I wanted someone to commit.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:35 PM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


The taxi companies themselves lobbied like police unions to prevent cities from issuing more medallions.
posted by rhizome at 5:22 PM on February 28, 2017


So what you're saying is that Uber's third secret was actually civil disobedience?
posted by Going To Maine at 6:06 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


So what you're saying is that Uber's third secret was actually civil disobedience?

It does seem really bizarre that a post on sexual harassment at Uber suddenly went into 'taxis are evil' land. I get that people feel this, but maybe this might not be the thread to get that our of your system?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:55 PM on February 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


The self-inflicted wounds just keep coming: In Video, Uber CEO Argues With Driver Over Falling Fares. “Some people don't like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”

But Kalanick has figured out he at least needs to seem to be learning:
In an email to staff Tuesday after publication of this story, Kalanick apologized to Kamel for treating him disrespectfully. “To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement,” Kalanick wrote. “My job as your leader is to lead…and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away. It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
posted by fedward at 9:25 PM on February 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


Now to uberize orangeface
posted by infini at 12:58 AM on March 1, 2017


At least part of the reason that there weren’t more cabs is that people weren’t allowed to provide more cabs.

That's only true in cities dense enough that street hailing is a thing; that's the only place medallions exist. Most places, even medium sized cities, taxis are what New Yorkers call car services. Inasmuch as Uber has been a boon to many people who can't drive and lack public transit options, it's been by increasing the supply of part time taxi drivers in less-dense areas. It's there that they were a new and useful outlet, and it's there that taxis will cease to be if/when Uber goes away. New York City is going to have plenty of cabs regardless.
posted by Diablevert at 2:28 AM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


It’s Not Just Uber
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:15 AM on March 2, 2017


From Travis Kalanick's apology letter (emph. added): "...I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up."

Travis Kalanick is 40 years old.

"This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it."

According to his Linkedin, Travis Kalanick has been in the workforce for 19 years. His job titles have ranged from "Co-Founder", "Founder/CEO", "Head of P2P Initiatives", and "CEO/Co-Founder".
posted by mhum at 1:45 PM on March 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


Fowler is reporting that Uber is actively investigating her life, most likely to attack her.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:49 PM on March 2, 2017




Just came by to post that Grayball link. Just when you think they can't be any worse corporate citizens.

I'm sure this will add a bit of a furrow to Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto's brow as he rolls over for the next thing Uber wants from the city.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:07 PM on March 3, 2017




Yeah, I'll believe it when it takes the form of something other than an expression of disappointment. The company knows they have the leverage -- they can always move somewhere else that will roll over.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:15 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Travis Kalanick is pretty well-known as a giant douche, even in an industry where sexist douchery is common.

It isn't douchery as much as it's high Kalanick.
posted by jamjam at 4:41 PM on March 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


jamjam wins all. not just the internets, but all series of tubes everywhere.
posted by taz at 3:35 AM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


Grayball appears to work on the principle of a "HELLBAN."
posted by spitbull at 7:21 AM on March 5, 2017


Companies Are Making Ex-Uber Employees Prove They're Not Assholes

On the one hand, that kind of sucks for the non-assholes who worked at Uber. On the other hand, people are weeded out from and turned down for jobs for much worse reasons, and it's not like Uber hasn't earned their reputation.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:41 AM on March 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


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