Sexism at Uber

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on – unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

I was then told that I had to make a choice: (i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that. I remarked that this didn’t seem like much of a choice, and that I wanted to stay on the team because I had significant expertise in the exact project that the team was struggling to complete (it was genuinely in the company’s best interest to have me on that team), but they told me the same thing again and again. One HR rep even explicitly told me that it wouldn’t be retaliation if I received a negative review later because I had been “given an option”. I tried to escalate the situation but got nowhere with either HR or with my own management chain (who continued to insist that they had given him a stern-talking to and didn’t want to ruin his career over his “first offense”).

So I left that team, and took quite a few weeks learning about other teams before landing anywhere (I desperately wanted to not have to interact with HR ever again). I ended up joining a brand-new SRE team that gave me a lot of autonomy, and I found ways to be happy and do amazing work. In fact, the work I did on this team turned into the production-readiness process which I wrote about in my bestselling (!!!) book Production-Ready Microservices.

Umm, this is sexism?

It’s a number of things, sure, including most undesirable that management should be propositioning those who work for them, but sexism?

The other stuff about organisational chaos and bureaucratic backstabbing seems like every large organisation everywhere everywhen.

47 comments on “Sexism at Uber

  1. Anything some women don’t like is sexism.

    Also:

    “…but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that.”

    I somehow doubt that was ever said. Even the thickest HR girlie would realise that she was handing the complainant the basic evidence for a constructive dismissal claim.

    As far as I can see, the complaint was dealt with appropriately.

  2. Umm, this is sexism?

    Under the definitions most organisations I’ve worked with have used, then, yes. The manager’s behaviour is (potential) sexism. Not so much the propositioning, that’s generally inappropriate for the workplace (especially in larger companies), but the (accepted by HR) giving of a poor report for turning down the proposition rather than for poor work performance.

    Whether HR’s behaviour or not is actually sexist (it obviously is to the SJW mindset), would depend (in my not-so-humble but utterly irrelevant opinion) on how they would react if the sexes were reversed or we introduced some alphabet soup to the propositioning.

  3. Yes i guess Susan was worried that not getting involved sexually with her boss would lead to a bad review. (fair enough) HR said well, based on what we’ve seen that’s unlikely but the only way to guarantee it is to move teams, so your choice.

  4. >sent me a string of messages over company chat.

    Well I believe it was his first offense as that’s a proper rookie error right there.

  5. “As far as I can see, the complaint was dealt with appropriately.”

    What a snivelly, Stalinist word “appropriate” is.

  6. Sorry, but I’d call bollocks on everything said in that first paragraph. The likelihood of the guy having done what he’s being said to have done is about the same as I’m going to be looking out my windows in August at snowdrifts. He’s either barking mad, there’s a whole backstory to this girl’s relationship with him we’re not being told or it didn’t happen.
    Why would he be disclosing intimate details of his private life & making unsolicited approaches to a woman he hardly knows through a company mail system? His chances of getting a favourable response are a microscopic figure above zero. And the downsides bloody obvious.

  7. “He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t.”

    Sad and pathetic to accept that sort of, ahem, open relationship. Even sadder to be sending that to the girl who has just joined your team.

  8. If you can be bothered to read the vaginalogue in full she goes on to say the guy had done it before with other women and carried on doing it after with other women and that management kept on supporting the guy and sabotaging her career and not buying her and her sisters a leather jacket and sabotaging her career a bit more even though she was brilliant at her job.

    At which point you might start to think either:

    Uber is an out of control sexist organisation just one class-action law suit away from imploding and Uber management don’t care, or

    She’s making a lot of it up.

  9. bis
    also + 1

    a) I’m already seeing someone else
    b) I just want sex
    c) I might give you a STD

    are chat up lines which most girls find resistible.

  10. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

    This is very common, in my experience. There are some “golden boys” and “golden girls” in organisations who management have earmarked for greatness, and can do no wrong. It won’t be just lewd remarks to employees his managers are excusing.

    Plus, again in my experience, HR is usually reluctant to initiate a formal disciplinary process because it means they have to get all their ducks in a row and be careful that they are not in breach of any laws. Almost by definition those working in HR are incapable of doing so and hence the try to handle things “informally”, usually presenting it as “for your own good”. These days I insist that HR or management initiate the formal disciplinary procedure if they have any complaints about me, my “future career” be damned. This is a lot better than having them stitch you up informally, nothing written down, and the record revised to suit their own agenda. So far not one of them has actually disciplined me formally: they are shit scared of it.

    In this instance, the woman has every right to complain.

  11. If you can skip through all the white knight shit, some of the comments are pretty funny. The one telling her to stop rambling and the one about the taxi drivers she helped put out of work both made me chuckle.

  12. I was always under the impression the job of HR is to prevent the company getting sued. Employees be damned.

  13. I was always under the impression the job of HR is to prevent the company getting sued.

    I’d agree with that, but I think they rely very heavily on the fact that a lot of employees won’t know the law or won’t want to exercise their rights under it through concern for their future careers. I think this has gotten to the point that HR now consists of complete dolts and management use veiled threats and bullying as tools of first resort, and are once again wide open to being sued. I am sure there are people who go from company to company suing idiotic managers for blatant breaches of the law, from what I’ve seen they leave themselves wide open to it. Which makes me wonder why they still employ an HR department.

  14. Is it sexism? You could argue that, you could argue that it is letting high achievers get away with murderism.

    However, if her report of what happened is accurate then her former manager is a deeply pathetic worm and Uber HR is a bunch of cunts too.

  15. Dongguan John,

    they seem to have done a good enough job as she doesn’t seem to be suing Uber yet.
    I hope she has access to the documentation she claims as Uber also have a department dedicated to reputation risk management.

  16. Plus in my experience, HR is usually reluctant to initiate a formal disciplinary process because it means they have to get all their ducks in a row and be careful that they are not in breach of any laws. Almost by definition those working in HR are incapable of doing so and hence the try to handle things “informally”, usually presenting it as “for your own good”.”

    Yes, that is precisely how HR depart mens should not but do operate in large organisations. It doesn’t as a rule.attract high quality people into the role. It is, however, very important, particularly to large organisations, which might find themselves operating at a much higher level if they took it seriously.

    I know someone running g their own HR consultancy who tells me she is absolutely hoovering up business -and fees – due to the incompetence of her so-called peers.

  17. Theophrastus – “Anything some women don’t like is sexism.”

    As we see with this:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4239102/Royal-Navy-bans-pin-posters-ships.htm

    It is hard to see it is even sexual harassment. If you don’t look, you wouldn’t know. Passive sexual harassment perhaps.

    Still I used to think the petty small minds that would stop a serviceman having a drink were bad enough. But stopping them, well, having a w@nk too is a step too far. We expect them to fight and die for the country but we won’t tolerate a fairly harmless pleasure?

  18. I don’t think her reaction is unusual. This guy though:

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

    What a fucking dweeb.

    First off, it’s not an “open relationship”. If your girlfriend is getting her Pinky Ponk pounded by some sleeve tattoo guy called “Jace” while your Friday nights involve a Pot Noodle and a wank, you’re a cuckold.

    Which is the lowest of the low, even more pathetic than other degenerates such as furries, balloon fetishists, and Liberal Democrats.

    Second off, what sort of autistic nerd thinks it’s a good idea to (a) obliquely beg for sex, and (b) via corporate IM?

    The kind who cries into his Bombay Bad Boy while his girlfriend is getting pumped by rugby teams, natch.

  19. “I know someone running g their own HR consultancy who tells me she is absolutely hoovering up business -and fees – due to the incompetence of her so-called peers.”

    Who says government can’t create jobs?

    Government regulation creates HR departments.

  20. “Of course, it might be bullshit as per BiS’ comment. But the managerial behaviour she describes is spot on.”

    I’m going on there seems to be a pattern to this sort of bilge. CiF at the Graun’s full of it. At root there’s some, often trivial, real world problem. And then there’s the crafting of a narrative of why said problem has enormous significance in some bint’s (or tosser’s) life. My guess is most of the problem’s her’s. For the world not realising that she’s a very special person & not treating her with the deference she’s due. An overestimate of her desirability to the opposite ( or maybe same) sex. Watching too many soaps & presuming anyone’s life storyline not matching up is missing out. Etc

  21. SMFS – A Royal Navy spokesman said: ‘The Royal Navy makes sure that the work environment, whether ashore or at sea, is inclusive and appropriate and we’re proud to be recognised as a top 100 employer in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index 2017.’

    England expects that every man, womyn, genderqueer and agender will do xir duty, so long as xe feels the navy is a safe space.

    The Russians must be terrified.

  22. “He was in an open relationship”..

    Phew, at last there’s a story of sexist tech management that doesn’t involve a South Asian, only white ‘men’ would be that stupid.

  23. Well, to start with, this is just that one person’s side of the story – and she makes some statements as if they were fact without providing any evidence.

    A. That being told that her supervisor is interested in her sexually is sexual harrassment.

    B. That HR agreed that it was harrassment but told her to suck it up.

    C. That she was told that she was likely to receive a negative review for refusing his advancements/reporting him.

    The first isn’t true – its harrassment if he continues after she’s made it clear that his advances are unwanted. Its also certainly unprofessional behavior to approach a direct subordinate at all with an advance, let alone one like this. But a single approach is not harrassment.

    The second and third are just screamingly unlikely in the 21st century.

    1. HR’s job is to protect *the company*. Their first, second, and last resort would not be to protect this guy but to hammer him. He’s not bringing in enough money to be worth making the company vulnerable to these sorts of lawsuits and they certainly can’t afford the PR hit at this critical juncture.

    2. I can see her being offered a lateral transfer here. I can’t see her being blithely told that if she stays in her current position that she can expect to be retailiated against.

    HR would be jumping all over *that* manager’s arse for even giving anyone the idea that such a thing was the slightest bit possible.

  24. I’m surprised the guy is a manager. If you’re hiring autistic people, you assign them to intense tech roles: testing, debugging, all the stuff that bores normal techies to bits. On no account should they enter management.

  25. Being in an open relationship only makes sense for a man if they are a couple of degrees closer to alpha than their partner, everything else (likability etc.) being equal. Otherwise it is almost inevitable that their partner will get more action outside of the relationship than them. Hence for the vast majority of men it’s a very bad idea.

    As to the story itself – I have known enough stupid people to be able to believe that it happened exactly as described.

  26. Paul – I’d bet you anything it wasn’t the cuck’s idea either.

    The awkward sperg was probably so pathetically grateful for occasional sex that he meekly submitted to some bingo-winged slattern’s decision to only grant him access to her shopworn snood on a timeshare basis.

    Even kerb crawlers and high court judges who pay women to smack their thighs with rolled up copies of The Guardian while calling them a naughty pony have more self-respect than that.

  27. testing, debugging, all the stuff that bores normal techies to bits

    Hang on, I enjoy debugging. And I don’t think I’m especially autistic!

    Like most programming, debugging is a form of problem solving. Only first, you have to figure out what the problem is before you can start to solve it.

  28. LPT – Being in an open relationship only makes sense for a man if

    Letting your wife or girlfriend shag around makes no sense whatsoever for a man, ever.

    The only reason you’d want to go to the trouble of being in a relationship with a woman is so you have exclusive drilling rights. Otherwise why bother? If she’s giving it away for free you don’t need to pretend to care about soft furnishings and her Mum’s ailments.

    You can’t turn a ho into a housewife, as rappers say. And why would you want to? Normal men want the mother of their children to be the mother of their children.

    I reckon this “open relationship” business is just a rationalisation for lazy people who want to fuck around, but can’t be arsed covering their tracks and lack the moral fibre required to plausibly lie about it.

  29. BiW: +1. Debugging is simultaneously frustrating & then very satisfying. The interesting bit is instrumenting the software to work out what the hell is going on.

  30. Can the debuggers on here help.

    The guy is a loser in his personal life.
    But he’s a star at work.

    How does that compute?

  31. The guy is a loser in his personal life.
    But he’s a star at work.

    How does that compute?

    Different natural talents? He doesn’t appear to be a star _manager_ at work, although he may be as wonderful as we are lead to believe when it comes to personal delivery.

  32. “…HR now consists of complete dolts and management use veiled threats and bullying as tools of first resort…”

    Well I guess there probably are such firms, but I’m sure as hell glad I’ve never worked in one.

  33. “How does that compute?”

    +1 to Gamecock and SE. It seems to be a side-effect of ineffectual/arse-covering-oriented HR departments that the line management has their authority cut back until they are little more than another team member, paid a bit more in return for filling in some bland forms occasionally, and being made to carry the can when the team performance is screwed by senior management.

  34. Andrew,

    I certainly have.

    NielsR +1, in return.

    In one particular example, Group HR were fine, good people with a suitably cynical temperament. I dealt with them extensively in my professional role.

    Business Unit HR were uniformly clueless paper-shufflers who employed their god-given right to bugger up anything that looked like making progress. Recruitment, sickness management, disciplinaries, pay reviews. I dealt with them extensively in my personal and management roles.

  35. TiS – I understand your point and I think you appreciate that my comment was on the basis ‘if you decide to do it (open marriage) and it has to be reciprocal then under what circumstances does it make sense for the man.’ Speaking only for myself, I am not prepared to lie and cheat, and I don’t want to share my wife, so monogamy it is.

  36. Wow. An alleged case of sexual harassment makes it onto a world-wide internet news service. There must be thousands of these cases happening at any time. I’d wager a few are going on at the BBC, right now.

    So what makes this one special? Is it, perhaps, because the BBC fucking loathes Uber?

  37. From what I know about the experiences of women in Bay area tech who are real engineers, Fowler’s experience is egregious but far from unlikely. Devops/SRE (her area at Uber) is even more male-dominated than regular development. The vast majority of men in the area wouldn’t even think about being the kind of sexist arse that she describes, but there are unfortunately some who are just like that. (Disproportionally from the Indian subcontinent, from the anecdotes I’ve heard.)

    It’s a sad reflection on the relentless pro-femme propaganda spouted over the past few years that my reflexive response to reading Fowler’s blog yesterday was “what’s her angle?” but she seems very competent on the tech front – I’ve read her stuff on microservices – and she got married recently so isn’t a man-hater. She has a good gig at a tech firm (Stripe) so has a lot to lose if she’s not telling the truth. The events she described should be easy for Uber management to verify or refute, at least in outline. My guess, she’s on the level.

    In that case, of course, I’m really curious to know how Uber management put together their HR team…

  38. Uber’s an SJW outfit, isn’t it? So it would hardly be surprising that it’s full of frustrated gamma males who think their gammatude will make women want to jump into bed with them (‘it’s OK, I’ll let you screw other guys, too’).

  39. Hopper – then by the sound of it we cannot judge her. There may still be an angle but it sounds like there is indeed a major problem with the guy and with HR.
    Would not surprise me if Uber sacrificed its HR department for PR purposes rather than for being crap. Though any future employers may wonder…

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