Company Abuse and Moving On

a rumination of lingering thoughts

James Martin/CNET

I won’t lie. When I first opened Susan Fowler’s post about Uber, I didn’t make it past the fourth paragraph before being triggered. Anger, hurt, pain, and frustration of my own past abuses flooded my body in hot waves. I stopped reading.

“Fucking HR,” I thought, “why are they even here?”

We all know who HR is here for. To be clear, HR protects companies, not employees. Or better yet, HR protects a company and it’s valuable assets, even if those valuable assets are abusers, harassers, or rapists. Adam Marx recently wrote a great piece outlining how to fix this.

But while HR is still HR, what do you do? What’s the point of reporting an infraction if it’ll be met with forcing the victim out and awarding the abuser with a raise, praise, or a new position with even more power to abuse? I mean, how many abusers have actually been fired in the Bay Area tech scene? We hear of these paramount abuse stories worthy of the front-page and yet, out of all of those abuse cases, how often does someone other than the victim get punished? And what about those who fall prey to these abusive narcissists? Who helps them?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the lingering psychological effects of abuse post company exit since the Dropbox incident (to which they’ve never apologized, despite being given many chances), and to this day it still hurts me. The combination of the abusers being rewarded, the victims being pushed out, blacklisted, and silenced, and the leaders receiving zero reprimands provides nothing but insult to those already injured by the insensitivities of mediocre, arrogant, patriarchal men (or those who’ve adopted the ideology). Why would I join another company knowing no one is ever going to protect me, a woman, and a black one, at that?

Why subject yourself to the shame that masking as a culture fit brings? Why hide who you are to fit in? Why bite your tongue when others abuse you? Why support and congratulate teammates who’s success is built on the exploitation of other employees. Why work for a company or speak positively of them when you know they paid prior employees to stay quiet about the abuse? Why be in these companies at all?

When will we, the workers, collectively shout that enough is enough and we will not stand for this behavior?

If you search for abuse stories in Silicon Valley, you’ll find that almost 100% of them come from women, and yet, tech companies in the Bay say they don’t have a problem with women or sexism. So who’s lying?

If you search for abuse stories in Silicon Valley, you’ll find that almost 100% of them come from minorities, and yet, tech companies in the Bay say they don’t have a problem with minorities, bias, racism, or xenophobia. These companies “just can’t find the qualified minorities.” And companies don’t want to lower the bar. But they mean no disrespect by these actions and phrases. So what do they mean? And again, who’s lying?

If you look at all of the abuse stories in Silicon Valley, a majority of the abuse is committed by men. And a majority of those abusers go unpunished (and sometimes, rewarded). But where are the victims now and what is their mental state/view of the industry? How is Ellen K. Pao doing, psychologically? What about EricaJoy, @Shaft, Julie Ann Horvath, Amélie Lamont? Not just, do they have a job, but how are they doing? What’s their self-esteem like? Their confidence? Drive? Love of the industry? Who’s looking out for them?

Who is ready to walk away from a toxic and exploitative industry knowing that employees really have all of the power and can do this on their own? Who’s ready to join forces and combine skills and expertise and build our own workplaces? Who’s ready to do more than talk the talk or make public commitments and actually lead with actions and behave as though morals matter (because to us, they do)?

Life is a struggle and it always will be, but I don’t want to intensify my struggle by walking into the lion’s den and signing up to work directly inside the confines of patriarchal White Supremacy. I will not survive and am not expected to.

I‘ve been thinking on this a lot and wanted to share some of these thoughts. Please share yours as well. Maybe we’re thinking about the same things :)