Sexism at Uber from female management #UberStory

My last days at Uber in San Francisco were filled with disrespect, condescending managers, and sexism.

It sickens me to know that there are countless employees at Uber who are experiencing worse situations than mine. If you’ve read Susan Fowler’s Uber story recently, you know what I’m talking about. What she shared is unjust and disgusting, and is unfortunately not uncommon in the workspace. In my time there, I saw malicious fights for power, interns repeatedly putting in over 100 hours a week but only getting paid for 40, discrimination against women, and prejudice against the transgender community.

This is my Uber story. Near the end of my time at Uber, I reached out to HR and my manager about the disrespect I was facing — from the female engineering manager I reportedly directly to each day. Unlike all of the other Uber stories I have read, I wasn’t dealing with some white guy in power. This is a woman, just like me. Like all of the other stories, nothing changed even after multiple meetings with my manager and HR. It was simply brushed aside and swept under the carpet of collective Uber suffering.

Below is a summary of the last email I sent to HR regarding my manager in an attempt to rectify the situation. The names of the people involved have been changed for their privacy.


[subject] Violation of the policy
Hi [HR],
TL;DR: My manager refuses to accept any feedback; She told me not to wear a tank top; She sneered at me when I told her about the technical problems of my service; and she has banned me from working from anywhere other than my desk to supposedly “ensure that I am collaborating with the team” — even when the team is not present.
As someone on the Engineering Security team, I’d like to raise some concerns about my new engineering manager, Tina (name changed for privacy).
1. She discounts feedback the team gives her and calls people out during anonymous feedback sessions.
The first time this happened was when the entire team agreed that we were having too many meetings since Tina joined. I can’t find any time to code and I remember having 6 hours of meetings a day at one point. Tina dismissed this and said “I didn’t have any problems when I was an engineer”.
During that same meeting, we gave “anonymous feedback” on Post-it notes. She read off each Post-it and addressed each person that wrote the “anonymous feedback” if she knew who it was. She has done this multiple times, and each time it makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. The “anonymous” part of the feedback must be lost on her.
2. She told me not to wear a tank top and that wearing a tank top is the reason I am not progressing in my career.
For context: I have been planning on transferring to Mark’s (name changed for privacy) team and have been meeting with members of his team for about an hour every other week to get up to speed with his team.
I had a meeting with Mark about a month ago to discuss the transition to his team, and Tina was there; she likes to be at all meetings and know everything that is going on. At the time, Mark was in the middle of a dealing with a company outage and couldn’t speak for long. He was noticeably stressed out — he actually stepped out of the outage room to meet with me, so I can’t imagine the stress he was going through.
The next day, Tina and I had a 1:1 and she asks, “How do you think the meeting with Mark went yesterday?” I told her it would have been better if he wasn’t distracted by the incident, but I’m glad he chose to meet with me. He’s an extremely busy guy and really good at what he does and I am beyond excited to work with him and his team — they are awesome. She continued, “Did you notice that he wasn’t really making eye contact with you? What do you think of that?” So I said, “He was in the middle of an incident and seemed very stressed out, but other than that nothing seemed strange.” I was stunned by the follow-up question that would disgust all the coworkers I told: “Do you think it was because you were wearing a tank top?”
I was shocked and suddenly painfully aware of my body and appearance in a way that I’ve never been at work. It made me feel humiliated, as if I shouldn’t be wearing anything to show my arms or skin. How could she say this? I have never faced discrimination because of what I was wearing (which was a black tank top from DefCon) and was at a complete loss for words. I didn’t know what to say. She kept going with, “Maybe he doesn’t want that around his team. Try wearing longer sleeve shirts for a few months and see how that goes. It might help you transfer to their team.” He doesn’t want that around his team? I know this is completely untrue because I wear this tank top almost every day and am close with him and members of his team (we eat lunch together and even go on the occasional run for ice cream). I’ve since discussed this with members of his team and they find this bewildering. They have all been so helpful about getting me up to speed with their team, to think that my tank top is holding me back from transferring to that team is flat out wrong. She continues with, “I had a coworker who used to wear a see-through dress and the guys loved to play ping pong with her and watch her jump around as they could see her bra and panties. HR had to step in after a while. I don’t think you are like that, but, you know, it’s a scale.”
Ever since then, I have felt terribly uncomfortable wearing a tank top at work –– or any of the clothes I own, really. Some of my closest coworkers started teasing me if they could see my ankles or neck, to poke fun at how ridiculous Tina’s statement was. Although we laughed about it, the darker side of the statement still stands out in my mind.
3. She laughed at me because of technical challenges I am facing.
For context: Tina thinks I am underperforming because she believes a specific service was delivered later than expected. I have been working on a feature that was finished in a few days as originally planned. However, the lead engineer on the project asked me to change the implementation thrice and add more functionality. This pushed the landing of the service out much longer than expected.
Tina and I met for our weekly 1:1, and we started off talking about the service. I told her that I thought my work was going well given the scope creep that has happened, especially because I’m also new to the framework and language. She started arguing with me and told me that the features I was adding were already a part of the service. I showed her written validation from the two service owners saying that these features have not been added to the service. She realized she was wrong, completely flipped her argument, and said that the code I had to add was super easy. She then laughed at me in a cruel way, and said, “Isn’t it just a simple If check?” According to the engineers working on the project (me and the service owners who have built the service) it is way more involved than a simple If check. Tina, of course, chose to ignore this very difficult engineering problem and instead laughed at me bitterly because she couldn’t control the scope creep.
Not having control sometimes sucks, doesn’t it? Clearly.
4. I am banned from working from any other Uber office; I am banned from working from another floor; I am banned from working from home; I am banned from working from anywhere except my desk.
For context: I rarely work from home, but I usually work from another floor because I find being at my desk distracting (many people come up to talk to me, to themselves, or to each other, and my best work happens in a quiet area where I can focus on coding).
Because the features of the service that I am working on are unfinished (did I mention that the lead engineer has asked me to change the functionality twice this week? No? I suppose it doesn’t matter, the ever-changing requirements just mean that I am underperforming… obviously), Tina told me that I should be at my desk to “ensure that [I am] collaborating with the team and getting the support [I] need.” If in-person collaboration is so very important, then on a day when all of my team members were working from home, why was I was reprimanded for working from home for one hour in the morning? It is literally impossible for me to collaborate with the team when they aren’t present. It’s clear that the problem is not collaboration, but is in fact the need to control over where I am and where I work. Don’t even get me started on how I was scolded for not working on Thanksgiving. Did I mention that it is Thanksgiving is a company holiday? Oh, it doesn’t matter, underperforming.
All of the insolence and harassment I face has damaged my views of Uber and made it really difficult to continue working here.
I can’t be like the other people on my team who tell me to “suck up” to Tina so I get a promotion; that isn’t who I am. I don’t understand how they continue to do this, even when they say she is “so condescending” or “just rude”. She cruelly smirks and laughs at people when they say something wrong on accident, and dismisses everything the team says.
I don’t want to cause any trouble by raising these concerns, but I do feel disrespected and put off by this. She is the most impudent person I have ever worked with and I don’t I want the team to suffer anymore. I hope you understand.
Keala

“Do you think it was because you were wearing a tank top?”

The scorn I faced, the dismissal of opinions, and the power plays were more than I could handle. The tank top comment was the last straw, and I knew I had to talk to someone about it.

As you can guess, no changes took place on my team, aside from people (including me) leaving the team. When I was still with Uber, 2 engineers had left our 11 person team under Tina. After I left, 2 more engineers left the team, and two of them started interviewing with other companies. This leaves four team members: one technical program manager, 2 engineers, and a product manager. If those four still remain that is a 63% reduction in Tina’s team; if that doesn’t speak volumes about Tina, I don’t know what will. The engineering talent that is lost deeply saddens me. The days before Tina gave way to positivity and productivity, and was a place that encouraged builders to build.

If Uber wants to become better, I think shedding light on dark situations like this is the first step to bringing about change. Management needs to stop shying away from the issues and pretending problems don’t exist. I know there are great people at the company that will push it forward in the right direction. They will stumble, and fall sometimes, but it’s all part of growing. I just wish it would happen sooner, and that people like me, Susan, and countless others, didn’t have to suffer for change to happen.

This is my Uber story.

#UberStory