Uber CEO Travis Kalanick / REUTERS

Former Uber Engineer's Sexual Harassment Claims Highlight Tech Industry Diversity Dilemma

Susan J. Fowler, a formerUber site reliability engineer,claims that her manager sexually harassed her when she worked at the company.


Fowler revealed in a blog post published Sunday that when she reported the offense to human resources officials and management, they declined to punish the alleged offender because he “was a high performer” and this was his “first offense.”

She also said that after speaking with other female employees, she realized that both HR and management had been lying about this being the manager’s “first offense.”

“There’s a phenomenon that happens in several industries, namely tech and financial services, where there’s a buffer around the men who are considered ‘high contributors,'” Kelly Dermody, a Silicon Valley employment attorney, told the Los Angeles Times. “They get to have a different set of standards, and their business success translates into them being above the law of the companies.”

Dermody has represented hundreds of women who work in the tech sector in gender and race discrimination cases.

In response to Fowler’s post, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sent the following tweets Sunday night:

Women who work in tech were not shocked by Fowler’s allegations, as the male-dominated culture is even reflected in Uber’s board of directors.

Last year Arianna Huffington, former executive editor and co-founder of The Huffington Post, was the first woman to join Uber’s board since it was founded in 2009. For seven years, the company did not have a woman on its board.

DiversityInc Top 50 survey data found a correlation between women representation on boards and diversity-management performance. TheDiversityInc Top 50, on average, has 34 percent more women on its boards than all other participating companies.

Uber has hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a review of Fowler’s sexual harassment claims. Holder and Tammy Albarran, who are partners at the law firm Covington & Burling, will look into the complaints about the manager at Uber, in addition to general questions about diversity and inclusion, according to a memo CEO Kalanick sent his employees on Monday.

Huffington, now founder and CEO of Thrive Global, along with Liane Hornsey, Uber’s chief human resources officer, and Angela Padilla, the company’s associate general counsel, will also help conduct the review regarding the sexual harassment claims, Kalanick said in the memo.

Huffington tweeted Sunday night:

A Twitter user replied to Huffington with a question:

Uber’s Weekly Meeting

Kalanick, Hornsey and Huffington spoke at the company’s weekly meeting on Tuesday at Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco.

According to Bloomberg, “Uber’s chief executive officer, at times with tears in his eyes, apologized for a lack of diversity in the company’s workforce and for not properly responding to employee complaints, while those in attendance lobbed tough, pointed questions, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.”

Huffington released a statement regarding what was discussed at the meeting.

“I just joined Travis and Liane Hornsey, Uber’s recently hired Chief Human Resources Officer, for the company’s weekly meeting,” Huffington wrote. “We spent over an hour discussing women in the workplace and talking about the review that’s underway by Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran into diversity and inclusion at Uber.

“Travis spoke very honestly about the mistakes he’s made and about how he wants to take the events of the last 48-hours to build a better Uber.It was great to see employees holding managers accountable. I also view it as my responsibility to hold the leadership team’s feet to the fire on this issue.

“Change doesn’t usually happen without a catalyst. I hope that by taking the time to understand what’s gone wrongand fixing itwe can not only make Uber better but also contribute to improvements for women across the industry.”

Numerous women working in Silicon Valley, especially in highly technical roles, say they have experienced misogyny and harassment in the male-dominated technology field. Technology companies are under increasing pressure to make their workforces more diverse by hiring more women, Blacks and Latinos but progress has been sluggish.

“There have been many questions about the gender diversity of Uber’s technology teams,” Kalanick said in a statement sent to Reuters on Sunday. “Uber will publish a broader diversity report for the company in the coming months.”

Ahead of Uber’s planned expansion into Oakland, Calif., civil rights leader Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., president and founder of The Rainbow PUSH Coalition, wrote a letter to Kalanick urging him to report the company’s diversity data by February 15. Unlike many big-name tech companies, Uber has not released data on the racial and gender makeup of its workforce.

Kalanick will meet with Jackson “in the near future” to discuss the company’s diversity initiatives, an Uber spokeswoman confirmed last week.

As a result of Fowler’s blog post, the #DeleteUber hashtag has been revived on social media. Last month, some protesters urged a boycott of the ride service over allegations it sought to profit from the chaos at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, after President Donald Trump’s executive order barring entry to people from seven Muslim majority countries.

Read more news @ DiversityInc.com

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