Uber promises to fire staff engaging in ‘abhorrent’ sexual harassment

20 Feb 2017

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick at Fortune Brainstorm Tech 2013. Image: Fortune Live Media/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A viral blog post from a former Uber employee said the company suppressed sexual harassment claims. The CEO confirmed that heads will roll if future cases are reported.

Uber has found itself increasingly under the spotlight of late, and not for the ride-hailing service it provides.

After a blog post from former employee Susan Fowler went viral, the company had to come forward and comment on allegations of the suppression of sexual harassment claims across the company structure.

Protecting management

In the lengthy post, Fowler described how she refused the sexual advances of her manager and reported his actions to the HR department.

Furthermore, she claimed that despite his very inappropriate actions, she was told that he was only given a warning as it was his first offence, and he was considered a high performer by upper management.

With this outcome, Fowler was given a choice of either leaving the team she was a part of, or staying in the same team, which HR admitted would likely result in her getting a poor performance review.

“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’,” Fowler added.

Not the only instance

After her own claim, Fowler said that following conversations with other women engineers at the company, this was not the man’s first accusation of sexual harassment.

She also claimed that all attempts to progress within the organisation were blocked due to her previous complaints about management.

Having now left the company for Stripe, Fowler said that there are few women engineers left at Uber.

“On my last day at Uber, I calculated the percentage of women who were still in the org [sic]. Out of over 150 engineers in the site reliability engineer teams, only 3pc were women.”

Travis Kalanick responds

Just a few hours after she published her piece, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick issued a statement describing her experience as “abhorrent”, adding that he instructed the head of HR to conduct “an urgent investigation” into the claims.

In an emailed statement seen by The New York Times, Kalanick said:“We seek to make Uber a just workplace for everyone, and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behaviour at Uber – and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.”

This marks the second time in a month that Kalanick has had to issue a statement following controversy. He recently agreed to step down from US president Donald Trump’s advisory committee after an exodus of users over the company’s ties to the president.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick at Fortune Brainstorm Tech 2013. Image: Fortune Live Media/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic