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Uber whistleblower: 'I wanted to speak up, share my story and get back to work'

Susan Fowler opens up at SXSW about her fight against sexual harassment and discrimination.

Featured Session: The Power of a Story with Susan Fowler - 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals

At SXSW 2019, Susan Fowler said a "group of people all over the world decided to take their story back."

Rita Quinn / Getty Images

In the two years since Susan Fowler published a blog post chronicling sexual harassment and discrimination at Uber, she's chosen to say as little as possible about her experience.

But Sunday, at SXSW during a session called The Power of a Story, Fowler said she was finally ready to talk.

"The world completely changed, and for the most part, it completely changed for the better," Fowler told the crowd, alluding to the #metoo movement against sexual harassment that swept through industries like media and tech in 2017. "It changed because a group of people all over the world decided to take their story back."

In a roughly hour-long session, Fowler stood at the podium and delivered an optimistic and encouraging view on the power of stories. She described Silicon Valley in 2017 as "Rome at the height of its decadence and decay," with a whisper network of information about the companies and managers to avoid that wasn't accessible to junior engineers like she'd been.

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Her blog post spurred Uber to launch an investigation into the claims, which led to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick, as well as 20 other executives. It also put her on the cover of Time Magazine, along with other women who spoke out in the #MeToo movement. In July, Fowler joined the New York Times' Op-Ed section as technology editor.

During her talk, she spoke about the lessons she's learn, one of them being how diversity and inclusion programs aren't enough. She said Uber checked all the boxes, offering things like employee resource groups  and training on unconscious bias -- a buffet of the kinds of programs and initiatives that would signal a company invested in the issue. However, Fowler said, there were foundational issues and systemic problems undermining all those efforts.  

"It was like trying to put a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound," she said.

Nevertheless, Fowler focused on how her life experiences and the wide breadth of other people's stories and philosophical works she's read shaped her and equipped her to write the blog post and deal with everything that came next.

"Live your story, whatever it is, and make it a good one," she said.