The bad, no good, terrible mistakes of HR at Uber


The media and the internet are abuzz this week about a blog post from an ex-Uber employee that goes into detail about the global drive-sharing company’s many problems, particularly its sexist culture. The blog author, engineer Susan J. Fowler, reserves her most bitter judgement for Uber’s HR department.

And, holy bananas, if her claims are true (if even half of them are true), her story is an example of what it looks like when HR gets every single step wrong.

According to her account, upon entering the company Fowler got her pick of engineering teams and chose the one that most aligned with her experience. On day one, her new manager sent her a series of text messages about the open relationship he had with his partner and how she was having more relations than he was.

“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,” she writes.

To her surprise, HR sided with the manager, saying that since this was his first infraction, and he was a good performer, they weren’t willing to do anything more than issue “a warning and a stern talking-to”. They gave her two options. She could move to another engineering team or stay where she was. They explained that if she chose the latter, she would likely receive a bad performance review, presumably because the manager would see it as a slight.

“One HR rep explicitly told me that it wouldn’t be retaliation if I received a negative review because I had been ‘given an option’. I tried to escalate the situation but got nowhere with either HR or with my own management chain.”

AHRI chairman Peter Wilson addressed this very topic recently when he talked about the ethical problems inherent when there is an imbalance in power in work relationships. He pointed out the obligation of HR to represent all employees regardless of status.

Despite trying to get HR and management to do the right thing, Fowler ended up moving to a different team. Over the next few months she learnt that other women in the company had made similar complaints about the manager, undermining HR’s narrative.

“Myself and a few of the women who had reported him in the past decided to schedule meetings with HR to insist that something be done. In my meeting, the rep I spoke with told me that he had never been reported before, he had only ever committed one offence (in his chats with me), and that none of the other women who they met with had anything bad to say about him, so no further action could or would be taken.”

(Want to know how to actually handle a workplace investigation? Read our guide.)

Sexist culture

These are only some of the difficulties with HR Fowler mentions in her blog. But as broader evidence of the company’s sexist culture Fowler writes, “When I joined Uber, the organisation I was part of was more than a quarter made up of women. By the time I was trying to transfer out, this number had dropped down to less than 6%.”

Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick is aghast at the post, and is vowing to investigate its claims. He says, “We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behaviour at Uber.”

It’s not too much to use the cliche here and suggest that this might be too little, too late. The famed Silicon Valley “frat boy culture” is again under the microscope, Fowler is now employed elsewhere and Uber’s problems with its workers, which used to be confined to its drivers, now seems to extend to its office staff. And all of this is taking place in a year where people are already turning on the drive-sharing company over its relationship with taxis, and Donald Trump.

But who knows, it’s an age of technical marvels. Uber is planning to someday automate all of its cars. Maybe it can do the same to its HR department.

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Joshua Bamigboye
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Joshua Bamigboye

This is very appalling! An HR dept is saddled with the responsibility of being an impartial arbiter in the workplace. I expect that the head of HR and d staff should be sacked if any investigations indicts them and if I were Fowler, I will sue Uber for discrimination, sexual harassment and emotional trauma

Peter Wilson
Guest
Peter Wilson

Another terrible example of gender discrimination in the workplace. The only way these can be stamped out is if HR stands up to them. As a profession we need HR managers to have more courage to confront other managers who intimidate co-workers with their sexual demands and innuendo. Its good that Susan Fowler spoke up about poor HR practice at Uber. Others need to follow this example.

Catherine Cahill
Guest
Catherine Cahill

As HR professionals, I think we need to keep in mind that every story has at least 3 sides to it. This first hand report from an Uber employee may be 100% accurate; but it may not. Last year I was a guest on an episode of SBS Insight on Sexual Harassment. I was the only member of the studio audience who was speaking from an HR perspective. Every, single person who had either made a complaint, or been the subject of a complaint, blamed HR for their universally poor experiences. As someone who has investigated many Grievances, I know… Read more »

Jeanette
Guest
Jeanette

I agree with HR Practitioners being more courageous, however, this will only occur if Executive, Boards and Leadership from the top down support Human Resources to address the issues without fear of reprisal. HR have an obligation to ensure clear policy and cultural expectations are outlined and to impartially address, investigate and reach an agreed resolution. However, Executive Leadership have an obligation to publicly endorse the policies and support HR accordingly. So often this is not the case and rightly or wrongly HR practitioners need to retain their job, earn a living and unfortunately when left hanging by management many… Read more »

Michael Christodoulou
Guest
Michael Christodoulou

I am not in HR but heartened that so many HR professionals and AHRI care and want to take responsibility. However, I would suggest that even a strong HR leader would have had a hard time at Uber. A cultural issue of sexual harrassment is not Ubers only problem. This is an organisation that bullies governments and its competitors. It treats drivers and customers unfairly. So the manner in which its managers and drivers treat staff and customers is sadly, just an extension of low behaviour. Only the head of the organisation could change all this, not the strongest of… Read more »

More on HRM

The bad, no good, terrible mistakes of HR at Uber


The media and the internet are abuzz this week about a blog post from an ex-Uber employee that goes into detail about the global drive-sharing company’s many problems, particularly its sexist culture. The blog author, engineer Susan J. Fowler, reserves her most bitter judgement for Uber’s HR department.

And, holy bananas, if her claims are true (if even half of them are true), her story is an example of what it looks like when HR gets every single step wrong.

According to her account, upon entering the company Fowler got her pick of engineering teams and chose the one that most aligned with her experience. On day one, her new manager sent her a series of text messages about the open relationship he had with his partner and how she was having more relations than he was.

“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,” she writes.

To her surprise, HR sided with the manager, saying that since this was his first infraction, and he was a good performer, they weren’t willing to do anything more than issue “a warning and a stern talking-to”. They gave her two options. She could move to another engineering team or stay where she was. They explained that if she chose the latter, she would likely receive a bad performance review, presumably because the manager would see it as a slight.

“One HR rep explicitly told me that it wouldn’t be retaliation if I received a negative review because I had been ‘given an option’. I tried to escalate the situation but got nowhere with either HR or with my own management chain.”

AHRI chairman Peter Wilson addressed this very topic recently when he talked about the ethical problems inherent when there is an imbalance in power in work relationships. He pointed out the obligation of HR to represent all employees regardless of status.

Despite trying to get HR and management to do the right thing, Fowler ended up moving to a different team. Over the next few months she learnt that other women in the company had made similar complaints about the manager, undermining HR’s narrative.

“Myself and a few of the women who had reported him in the past decided to schedule meetings with HR to insist that something be done. In my meeting, the rep I spoke with told me that he had never been reported before, he had only ever committed one offence (in his chats with me), and that none of the other women who they met with had anything bad to say about him, so no further action could or would be taken.”

(Want to know how to actually handle a workplace investigation? Read our guide.)

Sexist culture

These are only some of the difficulties with HR Fowler mentions in her blog. But as broader evidence of the company’s sexist culture Fowler writes, “When I joined Uber, the organisation I was part of was more than a quarter made up of women. By the time I was trying to transfer out, this number had dropped down to less than 6%.”

Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick is aghast at the post, and is vowing to investigate its claims. He says, “We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behaviour at Uber.”

It’s not too much to use the cliche here and suggest that this might be too little, too late. The famed Silicon Valley “frat boy culture” is again under the microscope, Fowler is now employed elsewhere and Uber’s problems with its workers, which used to be confined to its drivers, now seems to extend to its office staff. And all of this is taking place in a year where people are already turning on the drive-sharing company over its relationship with taxis, and Donald Trump.

But who knows, it’s an age of technical marvels. Uber is planning to someday automate all of its cars. Maybe it can do the same to its HR department.

5
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Joshua Bamigboye
Guest
Joshua Bamigboye

This is very appalling! An HR dept is saddled with the responsibility of being an impartial arbiter in the workplace. I expect that the head of HR and d staff should be sacked if any investigations indicts them and if I were Fowler, I will sue Uber for discrimination, sexual harassment and emotional trauma

Peter Wilson
Guest
Peter Wilson

Another terrible example of gender discrimination in the workplace. The only way these can be stamped out is if HR stands up to them. As a profession we need HR managers to have more courage to confront other managers who intimidate co-workers with their sexual demands and innuendo. Its good that Susan Fowler spoke up about poor HR practice at Uber. Others need to follow this example.

Catherine Cahill
Guest
Catherine Cahill

As HR professionals, I think we need to keep in mind that every story has at least 3 sides to it. This first hand report from an Uber employee may be 100% accurate; but it may not. Last year I was a guest on an episode of SBS Insight on Sexual Harassment. I was the only member of the studio audience who was speaking from an HR perspective. Every, single person who had either made a complaint, or been the subject of a complaint, blamed HR for their universally poor experiences. As someone who has investigated many Grievances, I know… Read more »

Jeanette
Guest
Jeanette

I agree with HR Practitioners being more courageous, however, this will only occur if Executive, Boards and Leadership from the top down support Human Resources to address the issues without fear of reprisal. HR have an obligation to ensure clear policy and cultural expectations are outlined and to impartially address, investigate and reach an agreed resolution. However, Executive Leadership have an obligation to publicly endorse the policies and support HR accordingly. So often this is not the case and rightly or wrongly HR practitioners need to retain their job, earn a living and unfortunately when left hanging by management many… Read more »

Michael Christodoulou
Guest
Michael Christodoulou

I am not in HR but heartened that so many HR professionals and AHRI care and want to take responsibility. However, I would suggest that even a strong HR leader would have had a hard time at Uber. A cultural issue of sexual harrassment is not Ubers only problem. This is an organisation that bullies governments and its competitors. It treats drivers and customers unfairly. So the manner in which its managers and drivers treat staff and customers is sadly, just an extension of low behaviour. Only the head of the organisation could change all this, not the strongest of… Read more »

More on HRM