Uber launches ‘urgent investigation’ into sexism allegations

A former female engineer’s blog post is going viral, and it doesn’t paint the ride-hailing company in a positive light. Here’s how its chief responded.


Uber is fighting another PR nightmare.

In the wake of a damning blog post from former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, the ride-hailing company is launching an “urgent investigation” into claims of rampant sexism.

In her blog post, “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber,” Fowler wrote that the negative experience started her first day working on her new team:

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.

From there, she said that HR and upper management “wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to.”

Fowler wrote she was then given a choice to find a new team or “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.”

Fowler claimed that Uber’s HR rep lied to her about it being the manager’s first offense, even though she and other women at the company had reported him.

She further alleged that “there was a game-of-thrones political war raging within the ranks of upper management.” In the post, she detailed backstabbing and nefarious politicking within ranks to move up in the company.

Fowler also referred to impossible deadlines, frequently abandoned projects and a general lack of professionalism throughout the company:

It was an organization in complete, unrelenting chaos.

Fowler says when she joined Uber, her organization was comprised of 25 percent women. By the time she left, that number was 6 percent.

One of the more bizarre stories Fowler shared concerns Uber’s promise to purchase leather jackets for its employees:

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.

Finally, Fowler claimed that her job was threatened after she had reported a manager to HR:

  • “(My manager) told me I was on very thin ice for reporting his manager to HR. California is an at-will employment state, he said, which means we can fire you if you ever do this again. I told him that was illegal, and he replied that he had been a manager for a long time, he knew what was illegal, and threatening to fire me for reporting things to HR was not illegal.”
  • “I reported his threat immediately after the meeting to both HR and to the CTO: they both admitted that this was illegal, but none of them did anything.”

On Sunday, Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, issued the following statement:

I have just read Susan Fowler’s blog. What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in. It’s the first time this has come to my attention so I have instructed Liane Hornsey our new Chief Human Resources Officer to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations. We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber — and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.

He also addressed the matter in a series of tweets:

Uber board member Arianna Huffington said she would also be involved in the investigation:

Uber investor Chris Sacca took note, tweeting directly to Fowler:

Several news outlets have reached out to Uber for additional comments, but so far, the company has largely remained silent.

How would you advise Uber to react in the face of this crisis, PR Daily readers?

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