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Uber's Sexual Harassment Problem

Much attention has been given to the Uber sexual harassment claim made by engineer, Susan Fowler, and with good reason. The former Uber employee has alleged sexual harassment by her direct supervisor, which she claims was then tacitly condoned by upper management.

Susan Fowler's Experience

Fowler took the right steps. After receiving chat messages from her supervisor, wherein she believes he was propositioning her for sex, she documented the messages via screenshots. She then immediately reported the harassment to her Human Resources department.

If Fowler's claims are true, Uber did more than drop the ball here. Fowler has said that upper management's response to her complaints was far less than proactive. Apparently, they decided to give her superior a pass, because he was so great at his job. Therefore, management chose to look upon this supervisor's improper, and possibly unlawful, conduct as an "innocent mistake" that should be forgiven. They said they would talk to him and warn him against this type of behavior in the future. Other than that, she should move on.

Even more alarming was how Fowler described the company's position on the possibility of retaliatory conduct by her supervisor. Fowler says she was given an untenable "choice" to either move to a different work team or remain on the team with her harasser. Should she choose the latter, if her supervisor chose to give her a poor performance review in the future, management would do nothing about it. Fowler reluctantly moved to a new team, and she made it work.

It's notable that Fowler further asserts that while still working at Uber, she learned of other claims by fellow female engineers of sexual harassment by Fowler's supervisor and others. Subsequent reports of improper behavior by Fowler's manager to HR were unsuccessful. According to Fowler, when she joined Uber, a quarter of the people working there were women. By the time she left, this percentage had dropped to six percent. Obviously, many factors are at play here, but a hostile work environment or even one that is indifferent to harassment is not going to keep women on board.

Uber's Response

Fowler left Uber in December of 2016. In February of this year, she detailed her Uber sexual harassment experience online in a personal blog post. It was only after her story became public, that the Uber higher ups expressed interest. Chief Executive Travis Kalanick launched an investigation into the allegations. The company announced in April that it had extended the probe, likely to the end of May. Results of the investigation are currently pending.

If you are a woman who has experienced sexual harassment in a male-dominated arena, you don't have to "put up with it" or just move on. There are laws to protect you, even when your employer fails to act appropriately and within the scope of the law.

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