NEW YORK: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on Sunday said the company will open an “urgent investigation” after a former engineer wrote a lengthy blog post describing systemic sexual harassment at the San Francisco ride-hailing service, which she called “an organization in complete, unrelenting chaos.” In a posting heavily shared on Twitter, the engineer, Susan Fowler, recounts being openly propositioned for sex by her manager during her first day on his team. The manager, she said, was never punished because superiors rated him a “high performer,” telling her they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for a first offense. They told her it was “probably just an innocent mistake on his part.” But later conversations with female co-workers, she said, revealed that they had reported the same manager and had also been told it was his “first offense.” Complaints about other supervisors, she said, were similarly ignored. Chicago fines former Uber executive David Plouffe $90K for illegal lobbying. “We all gave up on Uber (Human Resources) and our managers after that,” she writes. Fowler also recounts being passed over for promotions and professional development because of her complaint. In one instance, she became ineligible for an Uber-sponsored Stanford University computer science graduate program after supervisors mysteriously lowered her job performance scores.
Eventually the supervisor left the company – she suggests he was fired, but says a “game-of-thrones political war” raged within the ranks of upper management, resulting in abandoned projects, shifting priorities, low productivity and the constant threat of new projects with impossible deadlines. Fowler’s account could further damage the public image of Uber, a popular service that has already incurred the wrath of anti-Trump protesters who were angered last month when it lowered prices for rides from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport during a taxi drivers’ boycott. The taxi drivers were using the action to voice their opposition to President Trump’s travel ban. The move – as well as Trump’s December announcement that Kalanick was joining his economic advisory council – prompted many users to delete Uber’s app from their smartphones. Kalanick earlier this month said he was leaving the council. On Sunday, he tweeted that he’d instructed the company’s chief human resources officer to conduct an urgent investigation into Fowler’s account. “What’s described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in,” he said. Kalanick added, “We seek to make Uber a just workplace for everyone 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.” Arianna Huffington, an Uber board member, said she spoke with Kalanick on Sunday and would work with the company to conduct “a full independent investigation.”
On her blog, Fowler calls her difficulties at Uber “a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story.” She also relates an odd incident in which the company ordered leather jackets for engineers in her department, but says a supervisor later told her that women in the department wouldn’t get them because there were not enough of them to justify placing an order. Because there were so few women, she writes, the company couldn’t get a bulk discount on women’s sizes. “We were told that if we wanted leather jackets, we women needed to find jackets that were the same price as the bulk-order price of the men’s jackets,” she writes. Fowler has since left Uber, but in her posting, she notes that the percentage of female engineers in her department dropped from more than 25% to fewer than 6% in the year she spent there. “Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization.” Uber hires a NASA expert to help develop flying cars. She notes that when she asked a director about the trend, “his reply was, in a nutshell, that the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers.” On her last day at Uber, Fowler calculated: “Out of over 150 engineers in the (site reliability engineering) teams, only 3% were women.”