Recently two big information streams – reports of assault and harassment in the film and media industry and a couple of scandals around Uber – have coalesced into one. There is evidence that Susan Fowler, an ex-employee of Uber, exposed problems with sexual harassment at the company. She reported on her case on her personal blog, named it “one very, very strange year” spent at a workplace in the transportation service. After the post had been published, Travis Kalanick, head of Uber, ordered to pursue an investigation of this case, which led to firings and stiffening of work discipline. Sexism, lewd upper managers, technology stealing, and drugs – these things accompany the Uber’s working days. This story has rocked the boat seriously and taken the varnish off the intimate life of the company, which, it transpired, tend to break the intimacy of the employees.

 

Not the first offense

The perspective of joining the team of professionals who work in the interesting high-tech area of advanced kind of business was attractive for Susan Fowler. She was hired at Uber in November 2015, and until December 2016 she had been experiencing different trials at her workplace. On her first day at a new place, her manager offered over a company chat something, which is as old as the hills – to bed him. He explained this desire that he had “free relationships” and his girlfriend, according to Susan’s words, “was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t”. The woman reported this occurrence to HR immediately and… nothing significantly changed. The loveful manager was “the high performer” for the upper staff and it was, as Susan was told, “the first offence” for him, so the matter terminated with a reprimand and a smart talking-to. Since that, the perspective had changed: Susan was forced to change between Scylla and Charybdis: to leave the team and never meet this man more or to stay and receive a poor performance review from him later. There is an outrage of labour rights, but the frustrated woman decided to go on with work.

Susan Fowler

The most surprising part came after she had asked her female colleagues about any cases of harassment. Most of them confessed that they experienced the same; they made reports to HR as well, but as it was with Susan no changes proceeded, or their words were considered as libel. It definitely was not “the first offence” of their untiring colleague; in this fight between HR and employees, the first won. However, the manager left the company several months later.

The problem, however, was not solved. The executives remembered Susan’s grating activity and gave her negative performance reviews. In the situation, where she as a young specialist was dependent on any feedbacks, it could even spoil her future career. In particular, Susan was explained that she did not have ‘upper career trajectories” required for any transfer, so all her attempts at transferring were blocked. That was the revenge: rather than solving the situation and bettering the social climate within the team, the company saw fit to put the heat on the dissident.

Why do they leave?

In her blog post, Susan notes that there is a consistent trend among female part of the team to transfer out of the company. When she arrived, she says, of about 25% of the staff were women, and before her last days at the workplace, this number had shortened to less than 6%. Women either quit or intend to quit.

Susan names two main reasons for it: administrative chaos and sexism. She brings forward a story that she mentions as “ridiculous”, but if we avoid a touch of irony from there, we will face a clear example of disrespect of the staff. The company makes a decision to order leather jackets for all engineers because is had been promised before. Unfortunately, after taking the sizes all women who were size six received e-mails. The company explained that there were not enough women in the organization to justify placing an order, so the female persuasion was ordered to get along without a uniform just because they are women.

Travis Kalanick

 

In the end, after a row of “difficult conversations” and menaces of firing, Susan was offered a place at the other company, so without a moment hesitation, she changed her position. Nevertheless, she responds to the time spent in Uber with irony and humor, without any kind of spite and even regret, concluding the post like this: “And when I think about the things I’ve recounted in the paragraphs above, I feel a lot of sadness, but I can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous everything was. Such a strange experience. Such a strange year”. Alongside with all above, she remarks that at the moment of her last day in Uber out of over one and a half hundred engineers in her department only three percent were women.

 

The problem has to be shot

Of course, in context of the story of Susan Fowler, the questions are not long in coming. What was the main reason for the problem? Was it only impunity of the wrongdoer? Or maybe a quite passive attitude of the female staff? Alternatively, it is all the fault of the sexist and rigid system, which cares in the least of its employees? It is important to note, that after the story was made known, Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO, initiated the investigation of all the circumstances of this incident, and he hired ex-US Attorney General Eric Holder. To make their own, civic and independent investigation, a group of cinematographers from Good Universe is interested in the creation of a documentary on this issue. They team up with Susan and have a desire to involve huge professionals in action. Good Universe also reports that they hired Allison Shroeder, who wrote a screenplay for much-talked-of “Hidden Figures”; Kristin Burr will put a hand to producing. The attention of the documentary filmmaking industry is fine-focused at social issues, which connected to gender inequality and labour right and conditions, so it is appropriate to predict a success to the film. In addition, a blaze of publicity is quite an efficient weapon against ignoble actions.

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