By Ila Ananya
When writer and engineer Susan J Fowler complained to HR at Uber that her team’s manager had sent her a string of messages trying to get her to have sex with him, she was given two choices. Of course they weren’t really choices: she could either find another team to work with so that she didn’t have to interact with the man again, or that she could stay on the team and had to be prepared for a poor performance review from the man who was sexually harassing her. They also said that it wouldn’t be considered ‘retaliation’ if she received a negative review, because Fowler had been “given an option.”
In a blog post, Fowler writes that although the HR called it a case of sexual harassment, it was the manager’s first offence, and that, “they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to.” In the few months after her first complaint, other women that Fowler met in Uber told her similar stories against the same manager she had tried to report. It was obvious that the management had lied about it being his first offence (what kind of justification is that anyway?). When all the women tried to complain again, no action was taken.
Many many sexist and ridiculous issues later, Fowler writes that she was pulled up for complaining, “The HR rep began the meeting by asking me if I had noticed that *I* was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem.” Infuriatingly, she was then asked whether women engineers at Uber talked amongst each other a lot—and blamed the extremely low number of women in Uber on “how sometimes certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others”. Later, Fowler was threatened that she would be thrown out of her job for making the complaints she was making.
When Fowler joined Uber, the company had over 25 percent women. When she left, the number of women engineers was at 3 percent. But why is this terribly low number surprising when it becomes obvious how companies choose to keep women down? It reminds me a little bit of a strange video my colleague showed me, by Solasta Finance. In a video that’s supposed to be encouraging women to join finance, the caption reads, “Man up and apply for our women’s initiative.” If you don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, it becomes more clear in the video where a woman says, “But let’s be clear ladies, the blame [for too few women in finance] lies with you,” and then adds, “Are you able to look past your own narrative of misogyny and discrimination?”
Both Solasta Finance and Uber obviously seriously need to relook at their policies. When are people going to stop blaming women for there being such few of them in various fields when there are so many barriers stopping them in the first place?