It's Not Just Uber: Tech Is Failing Women
Over the weekend, former Uber employee Susan J. Fowler published a blog post about her experience working at the company. Fowler joined the team as a reliability engineer, eager to explore the exciting technical challenges a company of Uber’s scope would provide. As she details in her post, however, her time at Uber was riddled with sexual harassment and gaslighting from the company’s own HR department. It’s an infuriating and incredible read.
Among stories about the difficult and inappropriate work environment, though, are a few numbers and statistics we want to point out. At the time of Fowler’s hiring, she joined a team that was 25% women. By the time the harassment had escalated enough to make her look into transferring groups, the team was down to only 6% women. “On my last day at Uber, I calculated the percentage of women who were still in the org. Out of over 150 engineers in the SRE teams, only 3% were women,” she writes.
We know tech has a gender problem.
It has ranked amongst the least gender-balanced industries since its inception. That Uber was able to cultivate such a toxic work environment for so long is a testament to this culture. By operating with such a devastatingly small number of women on staff (without even getting to the topic of women in actual leadership positions) Uber, and the tech world in general, condones the idea that women don’t belong in these spaces. When a company creates an environment where their staff doesn’t think women are necessary, that company can’t then expect that women be respected. This culture is evidenced by Fowler’s conversation with HR after several incidents had been reported: “When I pointed out how few women were in SRE, she recounted with a story about how sometimes certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others, so I shouldn't be surprised by the gender ratios in engineering.”
Towards the end of her time at Uber, after several incidents and a denied request to transfer, Fowler learned why she wasn’t being allowed to relocate to avoid her aggressor. “It turned out that keeping me on the team made my manager look good, and I overheard him boasting to the rest of the team that even though the rest of the teams were losing their women engineers left and right, he still had some on his team.
Uber’s values are made clear here:
Women aren’t suited for tech roles. BUT they will keep women around in order to make money off them when it makes their company look good?
Which is it?
You cannot claim to care about gender equality or women in your workplace or field if you don’t have parity among your leadership, or in your staff, or on your masthead. It just doesn’t work that way. How a company presents itself, how it positions (or doesn’t position) women in its most public facing positions tells you much of what you need to know about a company’s values, about their capacity to put their money where their mouth is.
We feel safe asserting that this toxic environment wouldn’t exist if Uber managed to maintain a gender balance higher than the pathetic 3% Fowler cites in her piece. (Even the initial 25% is still nothing to boast about.) Women belong in tech. They have always belonged in tech. If you can’t keep women in your company, look at how your policies preclude their professional growth. If you can’t find women to hire in the first place, maybe you should invest in better recruiters. If your school isn’t graduating enough women engineers, maybe you should look at how you aren’t supporting your students. We’re sick of excuses.
What happened to Fowler is horrible and disgusting, but it isn’t unique.
That should be enough for the tech industry to feel compelled to make drastic changes. Sadly, we know it won’t be. Fowler is brave for calling Uber out, and we will do our part to continue to call out and put pressure on gender balance everywhere. And to the tech world: we’ll be watching extra closely.