Women, Let’s Call Our Harassers Out by Name
I commend Susan Fowler for putting harassment she experienced at Uber into words, and for publishing her story on her blog. As a woman technologist, entrepreneur, and investor who has had a 30-plus year career in the Valley, I know intimately that going public with sexual harassment takes incredible courage and conviction.
And yet, Fowler did not go far enough. Talking privately about harassment with fellow employees, mentioning it to management, and even going to HR, as she found, is not guaranteed to bring about the change we hope to see: ending sexual abuse, harassment, and discrimination in the workplace.
I want to encourage all women who are on the receiving end of illegal behavior to make formal, public, documented complaints.
Had Susan been more forthcoming in sharing screenshots of the inappropriate language, had Susan been willing to use actual names in her blog post, had all the women who had experienced the harassment at UBER gone to HR as a team, not individually, the results would have been much more immediate. For starters, UBER’s HR department would not have had the opportunity to repeatedly say “this is a first time offense” when all the women who were recipients of the “first time offense” were sitting in the room together, staring at the HR representative straight in the eye.
Nothing is more powerful than formal documentation when it comes to making a case for sexual harassment or discrimination. It gets the subjective interpretation and emotion out of the equation and puts the decision maker (the HR person, the management, the public reading the story or the jury in the courtroom) in a position to draw conclusions on the facts.
I have often wondered why, after years of sexual liberation, we women still hold back the documentation that would publicly expose our harassers. We still refrain from publicly shaming them. With all the tools available to us to document and publish these events, we hold back, even in our own personal blog posts, even when the situation has been serious enough for us to switch companies or potentially derail our careers. Why do we do this?
The reason is simple: The tech industry is a lonely place for women to start with and it gets immediately lonelier when facing sexual harassment. Male and even female colleagues often dismiss you, saying, “he didn’t mean it” or “you’re reading too much into it,” or even worse, “can’t you take a joke?” All of these comments have one underlying theme: They make you feel like you are the one creating the problem. Meanwhile, women are still working so hard to belong, to be part of the team, to “not upset the apple cart.”
The only way we women will come forth with full documentation is when we feel safe to do so. That means working together. Bravo to Susan Fowler for sharing her story. I hope that going forward, women like Susan will feel safe to publicly document their experiences — and even more importantly, safe to reach out to other women to join together in reporting harassment, making their voices louder and clearer. We, all of us, men and women who want to end sexual harassment, will be here to support you.
Let’s change tech from a lonely place for women to a place where women can flourish.
Magdalena Yesil is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture investor. She is the first investor and founding board member of Salesforce. She is also the co-founder of Broadway Angels, a women’s angel group. Her book, Power Up: How Women Win in the New Economy, is forthcoming from Seal Press in November 2017.