I hope people don’t just take away from this that Uber is uniquely bad - most women in Silicon Valley have stories with elements similar to this one (HR disbelief, multiple women reporting same man, retaliation, &c, &c). If this bothers you please work at your own company to 1) believe reports of harassment, and 2) ensure that appropriate measures are taken to stop harassers and harassment from occurring.
This is regrettably unsurprising, but seems like it must be illegal. Without intending to pressure the author if she’s uncomfortable, this (along with all her documentation) should be submitted to her state’s attorney general and labor board.
Good luck to them - ubers core competency appears to be fighting government lawsuits :/
Actually pursuing this will likely be career-ending for everyone who testifies. It’s not an easy decision by any means.
I think you’re greatly underestimating the employability of people who aren’t afraid to speak up. There are so many jobs out there in this industry and so many companies' hiring folk and engineering managers that would side with the plaintiffs and witnesses that I think they would hardly have trouble finding a job if they were fired out of retaliation or left of their own decision.
“Not afraid to speak up” is not how people would perceive these women after a trial. Any such trial would be focused on highly publicized attempts to defame their characters, and most people who didn’t pay close attention would decide there had to be something to such claims.
This really doesn’t square with the evidence we have about the way harassment reports and whistleblowers are treated in the tech industry. One example.
It’s hard to estimate these kinds of things, but a pretty strong consensus is that it doesn’t help your career. If there’s a good argument for the opposite in this case, I fear it might be more the exception that proves the rule. This story seems to be quickly picking up publicity, seems more egregious than the probably-illegal-but-hard-to-prove stuff that usually happens, the HR team seems to have totally failed at the usual ass-covering, and furthermore Uber has a preexisting reputation in the industry on these issues that is not good. As a result, I think there are probably companies, among those who position themselves as explicitly more progressive than the “brogrammer” crowd, who would hire someone in this circumstance, and maybe would even try to get positive PR out of doing so.
The pessimistic read, though, is that these are all necessary conditions, i.e. that there are a whole lot of ostensibly progressive companies who would quietly blackball a candidate for causing “HR trouble” in any situation that were remotely more ambiguous.
I think you’re greatly underestimating the employability of people who aren’t afraid to speak up.
As a highly-public antifa , I have to disagree with you. I used to have a blog that got 3,000+ hits per day and people would come to me when they were fighting organizational fascism  at work. I couldn’t give them advice (I’m not one to give advice, having not been terribly successful in the corporate world and planning to leave it) per se but I could share knowledge (as I learned more and more about this industry) and by this point I know more about PIPs and harassment cases and Silicon Valley vendettas than almost anyone here.
Corporations don’t fight fair, anymore than the brownshirts of the Italian 1920s did. That’s the first thing that you need to understand. (It should be obvious that this woman was being “managed out”– they would have never fired her, except after a long campaign to make her unhappy and ineffective, because it would be too risky.) Yes, people who testify against the company will be “managed out” and rendered unemployable. In addition, the company will entice people to testify on its behalf. It will promise promotions in exchange for favorable testimony. It has an almost limitless bankroll with which it can buy people.
Tech companies go beyond trying to prove that there wasn’t harassment (i.e. the actual legal matter). They’ll slander the plaintiff’s performance and the performance of everyone who testified on her behalf or even defended her in public. People who worked with her (even if they don’t “misbehave”) will be demoted and given impossible assignments. There’ll be rumors spread about her. Much of this nastiness has nothing to do with the legal case; they do it in part to put the person on tilt and less able to fight, but also just to be mean and to make an example: don’t go against management. Companies don’t care about the money (a $2 million harassment verdict is shareholders' money, and large-company management doesn’t give a shit about “shareholders”) but they are intensely concerned with their own reputations (corporate and individual) and will destroy anyone who goes against management, whether right or wrong.
There are so many jobs out there in this industry and so many companies' hiring folk and engineering managers that would side with the plaintiffs and witnesses
Very few engineering managers would do so. Those who would, generally don’t stay managers for a long time. Tech companies, in general, want managers to be an internal police force that will side with the company over the employee no matter what. There are, of course, decent people who become tech bosses… but it’s rare that someone who is a decent human being and a tech boss stays both for an appreciable period of time. Usually, one or the other changes.
I know someone who actually got his performance review overturned. It was a clear case of harassment. No one would bring him on after that, because even though he was proven right and he was a top performer, he had the “boss killer” reputation. Bosses don’t want to hire boss killers, even if that former boss deserved to be “killed”. He eventually got laid off, not because of his performance scores but because he couldn’t get a transfer.
I think they would hardly have trouble finding a job if they were fired out of retaliation or left of their own decision.
A 6- or 7-figure harassment suit will draw executive attention and make permanent enemies. Some of those enemies will spread rumors. Those rumors won’t be based on the truth. The image that will come out is not going to be “she was fired out of retaliation” or “she left on her own”. It will be “she was a terrible performer and got fired.” Again, the facts don’t matter, because she’s up against a corporation that will readily put out “alternative facts” and ruin her life.
HR won’t formally disparage her, on a reference call, but they will answer “No” if asked “Could she be hired again?” Or they’ll say, “I have to speak to an attorney before commenting on her performance”, which is just-not-illegal but sends a message– perhaps not a clear one about her performance, but one that will end her career.
To make it clear, it shouldn’t fucking be this way. I hate fascism and have fought to crush it. However, right now, there is something to be said for appraising the situation as-is and knowing how to live within it. We ought to have evolved beyond the Game of Thrones cycle of revenge and the “politics as is” culture of dishonor. However, the reality is that anyone who goes against corporate management (which is, at this point, openly fascist ) in such a way will have severe employment difficulties that take a lot of work to overcome.
 Antifa = anti-fascist, if it wasn’t obvious.
 One good thing about recent political events is that one no longer sounds insane when acknowledging that there are fascists among us and that they are numerous. Of course, this has been true for a long time and tech companies have been mostly on the wrong side. If there is a fascist coup in the United States (and, for some good news, we’re still a long way from that and it’s still very improbable) it will be Silicon Valley tech bosses running the tactical arm.
 Let me defend my claim that corporate management is fascist. There are essentially four political attitudes toward competition. Communalism holds that no one should have to compete. Libertarianism holds that competition is inevitable, a basic human right, and that everyone competes and must compete. (It, therefore, opposes anti-competitive trusts, cabals, and cartels.) Democracy holds that the people have the right to cooperate/unify but that people who have or want power must compete (i.e. win elections) in order to get and hold it. Fascism holds that power has the right to unify (and should) but puts the people in competition. Under fascism in a nation state, you see a coalescence of cultural, social, economic, political and military power into one unbreakable staff (fasces). Internal competition within the elite exists but is hidden from the peoples' view. Power presents a unified front, both in nation-state fascism and in corporate fascism (whereby HR refuses to override a bad manager).
@Irene is correct.
Yes, it’s illegal, but the career cost of pursuing it (or testifying) is so severe that the laws hardly matter.
Her story, on the whole, is not surprising or uncommon. It’s standard-issue Silicon Valley corporate behavior. What makes it slightly unusual is that HR screwed up by being honest. They told her that if she stayed with her manager, he’d probably “Perf” her. I’m honestly shocked by that. (1) HR basically admitted that performance scores aren’t objective representations of employee performance, which everyone knows but is not supposed to be said. (2) Most companies train HR not to say things like that, because they basically called her manager unethical. (3) HR put themselves in legal danger by saying that, because even though they were just trying to be honest (and, more to the point, probably trying to help her out) they could be implicated in a retaliatory “managing out”.
On the more general matter that Irene referred to, companies know the control (mostly unofficial, because official references these days are mostly name-and-dates) that they have over employees' reputations, even long after they leave, and that they can therefore get away with pretty much anything as long as it doesn’t hurt financially independent people (e.g. prominent shareholders). So, until there are major fundamental changes in the U.S. corporate environment (resurgence of unions? regulation put through by a future left-wing Congress?) we will not see an end to this.
It sounds like a slam dunk harassment case, though I believe the author would have to choose to pursue it
I learned a hard lesson several years ago in dealing with a racist, misogynist, asshole of a manager, which is strongly reinforced here: HR does not exist for the benefit of employees. HR exists solely for the corporation, executives, senior management, and keeping the company out of legal trouble.
Never trust HR. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring your case to them. It means when you do bring your case to them you must document everything in the process, and record what you can.
What an awful story! If true (and I rather suspect it is), hopefully it’ll add to the growing amount of evidence that Uber is a garbage company run by garbage people.
There was one line though that might be worth pointing out:
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.
This sort of thing is an example of bad behavior from perverse incentives–I am curious if similar issues have happened in other orgs that have some nominal commitment to diversity.
The idea of some manager fucking over somebody’s transfer because they want to play Pokemon with the minorities and catch them all is pretty sickening.
Her story is not atypical as far as technology companies go. I’m 98 bid that it’s true and what I think distinguishes Uber is only that it’s open about its amorality: Kalanick revels in it, while other companies' executives are more cautious.
What is different/unusual is that HR was honest about their inability to do anything about a politically favored but problematic manager, and the high likelihood that he would “Perf” her (that is, retaliate with a false negative review). Most companies these days are a bit fascist (“we run lean”, “be a team player”) but they usually don’t open the playbook like that except to executives.
I’ll write a long-form reply on this after I feed my cats. Stay tuned.
I don’t think there’s enough information in the article to support the position that the author’s inability to transfer was definitively due to broken pro-diversity incentives. There’s nothing indicating there was any tangible pro-diversity incentive in place, and the only supporting data from the article is an offhanded remark that sounds more like an attempt at one-upmanship than anything else. It’s equally plausible that there were any number of additional contributing factors to her manager’s decision to block her transfer, including keeping a talented engineer who makes his team look better, and that being able to brag about having a woman on the team was a secondary bonus.
Certainly it’s possible to craft a broken system of incentives around any policy, but I think pointing the finger at unknown pro-diversity incentives here is a red herring at best. The amount of infighting and generally toxic behavior described in the article suggests a much broader set of poor incentives throughout the organization.
*edited for clarity
that being able to brag about having a woman on the team was a secondary bonus.
This is awful even by itself, FWIW, and IMO shows that there is a diversity issue very clearly. Offhand comments often point to deeper issues.
Hmm. I think we’re running into some linguistic ambiguity here. If by diversity issue, you mean that Uber built an internal culture that’s both incapable of supporting and is actively damaging to diversity, then yes, I agree completely, they have serious diversity issues, likely compounded and enabled by deeper issues in the power structure of the organization.
If you mean as the top-level thread parent suggested that there’s some backfiring pro-diversity effort in play, I remain unconvinced.
This finally put me over the edge. I’m a heavy Uber user (travel 75% for work) and am voting with the spend I control and moving to Lyft.
Its sad I let it go this long. I’m sure these things can happen at Lyft as well as any employer really. I just can hope that they’re not as endemic to the corporate culture.
I’m somewhat of tech’s resident antifa, for better or worse, so let me explain what went on.
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.
It’s possible that he had blackmail material on upper management. Or, perhaps they were just bad judges of character and liked the guy. Of course, it obviously had nothing to do with performance. Performance review scores rarely do; they’re pure politics.
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. I remarked that this didn’t seem like much of a choice
I remarked on this in another comment. This is better treatment than most people get from HR: they offered her a transfer on good terms. It’s very rare that someone gets even that!
What’s unusual is that HR was honest. (1) HR basically admitted that performance scores aren’t objective representations of employee performance, which everyone knows but is not supposed to be said. (2) Most companies train HR not to say things like that, because they basically called her manager unethical. (3) HR put themselves in legal danger by saying that, because even though they were just trying to be honest (and, more to the point, probably trying to help her out) they could be implicated in a retaliatory “managing out”.
That isn’t normal in Corporate America. HR is usually “better trained”… and this means more disinclined to act in an employee’s interest.
One HR rep even explicitly told me that it wouldn’t be retaliation if I received a negative review later because I had been “given an option”.
This is a ridiculous claim. However, almost all negative reviews are retaliation. They’re not always illegal retaliation– it’s not illegal to “Perf” a high performer because you don’t like him, or because he made you look bad in a meeting– but they’re usually retaliatory/punitive. Under-the-radar low performers don’t inspire the hatred that “trouble makers” (i.e. anyone who goes against management or corporate statism) do.
I would bet that Uber disallows HR from improving performance scores simply because 90+ percent of Perfing cases, although not always illegal, are suspect and would make the manager and company look stupid if they took anything but a “no negotiation, and shut up before we ruin your life” stance.
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”.
Anyone who is surprised by this doesn’t know Corporate America. See my other comments for my credentials on this topic.
Eventually he “left” the company. I don’t know what he did that finally convinced them to fire him.
Understand that they don’t like him either. HR is indoctrinated never to side against management– especially not in front of an employee, because power must unify (see my comment below about fascism)– but I’m sure they despise him on a personal level. As soon as he is judged to be a significant risk to the company, he’s gone.
I remember countless meetings with my managers and skip-levels where I would sit there, not saying anything, and the manager would be boasting about finding favor with their skip-level and that I should expect them to have their manager’s job within a quarter or two.
Ok, that is slightly unusual. Sounds like they have a lot of young people who don’t know yet to shut the fuck up about their political ambitions.
I met all of the qualifications for transferring - I had managers who wanted me on their teams, and I had a perfect performance score - so I didn’t see how anything could go wrong. And then my transfer was blocked.
Not surprising. Again, that is what these people do. Most corporate managers, once they spot someone who wants a transfer, will do what they can to prevent it. Even if they might normally support it, they don’t want the optics.
According to my manager, his manager, and the director, my transfer was being blocked because I had undocumented performance problems.
That’s slightly surprising. From a legal perspective, it’s hilariously incompetent. If her managers were better at being evil, they’d have set her up to fail and given her a shitty score. (What’s she going to do?) Had they screwed up and given her a good score, they’d block her transfer on the grounds that she was too critical to let go, with a promise that she could transfer in X months… and then use that time to wreck her reputation both informally (calls to managers she might transfer to) and formally (low future performance score). Obviously, I am not saying that this is morally right or even acceptable, but it’s what people do in the corporate world.
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.
This is called “managing out”. It’s hideous. They know that they’re opening themselves up to legal risk by firing her, so they’re jerking her around until she quits.
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.
What they’re saying is that her impressive external activities (O'Reilly book, tech conference talks) are inspiring resentment (tallest poppy) and show that she’s “not a team player”. She’s putting her external reputation ahead of her Uber career. (There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s prudent and smart. But corporations don’t like it.) I’ve written about it before: over-performers are more likely to get in trouble than under-performers, because they inspire resentment.
I was enrolled in a Stanford CS graduate program, sponsored by Uber, and Uber only sponsored employees who had high performance scores. Under both of my official performance reviews and scores, I qualified for the program, but after this sneaky new negative score I was no longer eligible.
That’s fucking evil.
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.
Not at all surprising. Even when fascism (and see my other comments for the justification of fascism in this context, because I am not exaggerating) doesn’t start out being explicitly sexist or racist, it often tends that way. People who are different, even in completely mundane ways (e.g. different skin color, gender) that mean little to nothing, are seen as simultaneously threatening and weak, and are therefore targeted.
What’s unusual is that HR was honest. (1) HR basically admitted that performance scores aren’t objective representations of employee performance, which everyone knows but is not supposed to be said.
This is what threw me. They basically gave a confession that they were full of shit. She’s unusually lucky in that regard. Then, the status quo eliminates any benefit from that luck entirely by making sure her taking action will only hurt her career despite solid evidence. Also, it’s a company that practically specializes in breaking the law and getting away with it. The odds are double-stacked against people on inside trying to take action against such abuse. Whole situation is disgusting from both a moral and a business standpoint.
When are we going to start calling the people and companies defending this behavior what they truly are? Cowards.
Jesus, the comments on her post. I shouldn’t be surprised, but …
In the background, there was a game-of-thrones political war raging within the ranks of upper management in the infrastructure engineering organization.
IMO, necessary reading, for when you inevitably spot this in your own life.