Uber's Very Bad Week

Unless you’re just getting back from a nice week in some wifi-unfriendly part of the world, you almost certainly are aware that Uber has been having a rough week. It started when Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, decided to share her experience working with the company. It was eye opening to say the least. Please read the whole post if you haven’t already.

“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.”

So far, pretty run of the mill stuff for a female working with men.

“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.”

This is the part where I think a lot of men get pretty surprised. I think it’s commonly believed by men that when things are reported that women start getting treated like actual human beings. Judging by the amount of absurd responses to any female sharing her experiences online, many men actually think that the scales are tilted towards women when they report these things so severely that women are inclined to just make them up. In fact, here’s one of the responses to her blog post. Terrifying.

“Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company. As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company. It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being "his first offense", and it certainly wasn't his last. Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his "first offense". The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.”

This sounds like it should be a disaster for Uber at this point. Their HR department is clearly straight up lying to these women. It is incredibly unlikely this has anything to do with the people who actually work in human resources. This almost certainly is a flagrant issue inside the company, and the HR workers are not being supported to do their jobs and clean this behavior up. Obviously, it only gets worse.

“In the background, there was a game-of-thrones political war raging within the ranks of upper management in the infrastructure engineering organization. It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor's job. No attempts were made by these managers to hide what they were doing: they boasted about it in meetings, told their direct reports about it, and the like.”

Man, where do I apply?

Performance review season came around, and I received a great review with no complaints whatsoever about my performance. I waited a couple of months, and then attempted to transfer again. When I attempted to transfer, I was told that my performance review and score had been changed after the official reviews had been calibrated, and so I was no longer eligible for transfer. When I asked management why my review had been changed after the fact (and why hadn't they let me know that they'd changed it?), they said that I didn't show any signs of an upward career trajectory. I pointed out that I was publishing a book with O'Reilly, speaking at major tech conferences, and doing all of the things that you're supposed to do to have an "upward career trajectory", but they said it didn't matter and I needed to prove myself as an engineer. I was stuck where I was. 

This is the part where my jaw started gaping. Changing performance reviews after the fact seems like an obvious legal offense. It’s so easy to forget that companies are so confident that going through the legal system is impossible and that people wont bother to take these open and shut cases to court.

“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.” 
“When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another eng organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%.”

Wow.

“Things were beginning to get even more comically absurd with each passing day. Every time something ridiculous happened, every time a sexist email was sent, I'd sent a short report to HR just to keep a record going. Things came to a head with one particular email chain from the director of our engineering organization concerning leather jackets that had been ordered for all of the SREs. See, earlier in the year, the organization had promised leather jackets for everyone in organization, and had taken all of our sizes; we all tried them on and found our sizes, and placed our orders. One day, all of the women (there were, I believe, six of us left in the org) received an email saying that no leather jackets were being ordered for the women because there were not enough women in the organization to justify placing an order. I replied and said that I was sure Uber SRE could find room in their budget to buy leather jackets for the, what, six women if it could afford to buy them for over a hundred and twenty men. The director replied back, saying that if we women really wanted equality, then we should realize we were getting equality by not getting the leather jackets.”

I’m not sexist, you're sexist!

“I forwarded this absurd chain of emails to HR, and they requested to meet with me shortly after. I don't know what I expected after all of my earlier encounters with them, but this one was more ridiculous than I could have ever imagined. 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.”

This is the reality for minorities that the privileged really struggle to come to terms with. The more a minority follows everything they are advised to do, the more it gets turned around. This is one example with a women, but this same situation happens countless times to any number of minorities.

“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.”

4 women out of 150, sounds legit.

Ok, so the women working as engineers are clearly being mistreated. As I mentioned above, while its easy to say that HR was just not doing their jobs, this is a clear indication of some deep issues with the companies philosophies. Unsurprisingly, a quick look at Uber’s history makes this startlingly clear (do not skip reading this link). This is a company which oozes contempt for women.

Well, considering Uber’s primary service is sending strangers to drive individuals around, and this is how the company itself treats women, then clearly Uber is going to be sending some rapists to pick you up. From the article

A few steps away from the car, Doe realized she had left her phone plugged into the auxiliary cable in the car and went back to retrieve it. The driver then "complimented and attempted to kiss her." When she rebuffed him, Jaquez allegedly began driving, with Doe only partially in the car. He pulled over and began "forcibly kissing and groping her." Eventually, the woman managed to flee. She rejoined her friends and told them what had happened.

Ok, so women won’t be treated well working for the company and should probably avoid using the service all together. That’s got to be all that happened this last week, yes?

Well, while most individuals will just find another job rather than deal with the complexities of a legal battle, it turns out that companies are much more prepared to sue. From the article:

Waymo alleges that former employee Anthony Levandowski downloaded thousands of confidential files to a personal hard drive before resigning from the company. Levandowski then launched a self-driving truck company, Otto, which Uber purchased in 2016. Waymo also claims that other former employees now with Uber also downloaded confidential information.
Waymo pursued the lawsuit after receiving an inadvertent email from a supplier that included a drawing of Uber's LIDAR circuit board. LIDAR is a type of laser sensor that is generally considered essential to developing a self-driving car. According to Waymo, the drawing of the circuit board had a striking resemblance to Waymo's own LIDAR.

Now it’s possible that Uber had no idea that Otto stole these documents. On the other hand, the whole reason Uber was purchasing Otto was for their IP, so it seems unlikely they weren’t doing so specifically because it was a better deal than paying royalties to Google indefinitely.

Don’t worry, it gets worse. A few days later, it came out that Uber used some verbal trickery to hoodwink the public into thinking that a human was responsible for an accident that actually was the fault of their autonomous driving software. Hat tip to John Gruber who nailed this story when it first came out.

Well, with this sort of debauchery, there really is only one news source which is prepared to properly deal with it. From the onion:

In a move designed to streamline the product’s interface and facilitate one of the more common interactions between customers and the ride-sharing service, Uber announced Wednesday that its newest update would allow users to file a lawsuit against the company from directly within the app. “We’ve listened to the community, and we’re excited to introduce a feature that will make bringing litigation against us—whether for sexual harassment, racial profiling, or aggravated assault—as quick and easy as hailing a ride,”

So yeah, delete Uber from your phone right now if you haven’t already.

But just in case you think that Uber is some anomaly and that other companies are innocent, here you go.

The next time a minority tells you a horror story about being mistreated, be sure that you offer your support and don’t demand them to prove it.