A blog post by a former Uber employee highlights an ignorance and unwillingness by companies to deal with sexual harassment. Companies must start taking allegations of sexual harassment more seriously, allow individuals to make reports without fear of repercussions, and create a better understanding of what sexual harassment is.
Susan J. Fowler, the employee in question, recounts in her blog post how the manager who had sent her inappropriate messages was only given a minor warning. Additionally, Fowler was told it was up to her to decide if she should stay on the same team under the supervision of the same manager, or join a new team, an option she did not feel prepared for. This highlights two problems: punishment for sexual harassment being weak or nonexistent and those harassed having to navigate a hostile work environment.
Additionally, Fowler claims that she and other women in the company, after learning of their shared experiences with sexual harassment (sometimes at the hands of the same manager), filed complaints but were dismissed. Fowler states they were told that the individual accused had not committed sexual harassment before even though past allegations had been made.
The excuses made on behalf of the manager because it was supposedly his first offense were absurd. Even if the individual was a first time offender, he should have still faced punishment. This occurrence of sexual harassment also displays the male-dominated environment many women often have to navigate at work, having to deal with their complaints being dismissed, and the inappropriate actions of their male peers being excused.
In the closing paragraphs of the blog post, Fowler recounts how she was eventually reprimanded for all the complaints of sexual harassment she had filed, first by a HR representative and later by her manager who threatened to fire her if she ever made another accusation. Here we see how those who report sexual harassment often face outright hostility for confronting it, leading to fear of making allegations.
The linkage between fear of repercussions for reporting sexual harassment and sexual harassment going unreported is made further clear in a USA Today article, which states “a big reason why most people experiencing sexual harassment don’t come forward is there’s still a lot of fear,.” The fear mentioned in the article is associated with the fear of losing one’s job.
The article goes onto explain other issues with sexual harassment in the workplace, that employers have “implemented policies regarding sexual harassment to shield themselves from liability” and that “harassing behavior to one person is not harassment to another.” It displays how companies should not deal with sexual harassment, putting their own concerns over that of the employees.
Both Fowler’s blog post and the USA Today article highlight that companies should take allegations of sexual harassment more seriously, making sure the harasser understands the severity of their actions and implement consequences to deter the individual from harassing again. Through these actions Uber would have better managed the concerns of Fowler, while also decreasing the likelihood that future female employees would confront sexual harassment.
Additionally, companies should take a more active role in making sure all employees understand what constitutes inappropriate behavior in the workplace, and assure employees they will not face backlash for making reports. If Ubear had done this, then the manager in question would know his actions were inappropriate and that Fowler would not have to worry about her job security for making a report.
Uber handled the situation poorly, reflected by Fowler’s statement that out of the 150 engineers “3% were women,” a minority of women in an environment indicating that their concerns are ignored in favor of their male colleagues. Uber and companies in a similar position should do more to recruit female workers and meet their needs. Lastly, individuals themselves must recognize the sometimes hostile work environments women find themselves in, and be sure to not contribute to it and speak out against it.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is still a prevalent problem many individuals still have to contend with. With better policies on how those harassed and harassing are dealt with, employers can create a safer and more comfortable work environment for everyone.