Uber to investigate 'abhorrent' harassment claims

As a former Uber engineer's blog about the company's workplace culture went viral, CEO Travis Kalanick says he's ordered an "urgent investigation."

Jaap Arriens, NurPhoto via Getty Images

Uber will launch an internal investigation on sexual harassment after a former engineer wrote about her year working at the company.

In a Sunday blog post, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler alleged many women in the company were sexually harassed by other employees and complaints were dismissed by HR.

Her chief claim was that one manager had inappropriately sexually propositioned many women, but Uber management repeatedly "refused" to punish him as he was a "high performer."

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick tweeted a response, saying an investigation would be launched:

Arianna Huffington, one of Uber's board members, tweeted: "Just talked w/ Travis & as a representative of Uber's Board I will work w/Liane to conduct a full independent investigation starting now."

Fowler stated she was a site reliability engineer at Uber from November 2015 to late last year. She said it didn't take her long to encounter harassment at the company.

"On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat," she wrote. "He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn't... It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him."

Fowler claimed she was told by upper management that "they wouldn't feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part."

In the following months, she claims to have met many female engineers who'd had similar experiences with the same manager. Despite the women notifying HR and upper management, Fowler says "nothing was done."

However, she did note the manager eventually "left" the company.

Fowler's blog post also claims there was a chaotic company-wide culture of sexism and unprofessional business practices. This, Fowler said, had serious work-flow consequences. "Projects were abandoned left and right, [objectives and key results] were changed multiple times each quarter," she wrote. "Nobody knew what our organizational priorities would be one day to the next, and very little ever got done."

Much has been said about sexism and the lack of women in Silicon Valley. Women make up around 30 percent of the workforce at major tech companies, but take up only 15 percent of technical roles. In a 2016 survey of 200 women who had worked in Silicon Valley for over 10 years, 60 percent of respondents said they'd received unwanted sexual advances, 65 percent said those advances came from a superior and one of three said they were in fear for their personal safety.

"We seek to maker Uber a just workplace for everyone," Kalanick said in a statement provided to CNET. "There can be absolutely no place for this kind of behaviour at Uber."

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