What is equality to you? — Lessons learned from Uber.

This week, precisely on 19 Feb, 2017, an astonishing article surfaced the internet. Sexism was brought to life with the very, very strange experience of Susan J. Fowler at Uber.

Also being an engineer, there has always been a slight fear that, no matter how hard you try, there will be a glass ceiling forbidding you for achieving in life; there has always been a hope that I will be judged not by my appearance, but my performance. During high school, I had the opportunity to join Sheryl Sandberg’s online conference and was first introduced to her best-selling book Lean In, and since then firmly believe that I wouldn’t be held back by my gender. By being proactive, and trying to “get myself to the table”, opportunities wouldn’t close its doors to me — because new technology companies like Facebook fights for equality. However, after reading Fowler’s article, I am feared once more.

After ready Fowler’s article, it is indeed disturbing. Despite the fact that there are always two sides of the story, and the article may be slightly exaggerated and biased, the elements of the story is horrifying. Given the situation based on a girl like Fowler, or any other man, it is horrifying.

Think about it — You’ve worked so hard to become an engineer at a world-renowned company. Your expectation of a new company in the ICT is high. Unlike traditional corporates, hierarchy shouldn’t exist, the company structure should be “flat” and you shouldn’t worry about your voice being swallowed by anyone. In fact, your performance scores are manipulated; your sexual harassment scar has been overlooked; you are basically frozen in your position, and your voice can’t be heard. It seems everyone else in the company is more important than yours. Reality just kicks your really hard.

We all want to be treated equally, unless you’re in the upper-hand.

And this comes down to: “What is equality to you?” Being an equality activist, and I would say I’m even a feminist — I got in an argument with my boyfriend earlier on what exactly is equality, and what exactly am I trying to fight for. This is what I am trying to fight for:

Earlier in my childhood, I had a playmate living in the next block of our neighbourhood. I was at his place once, and while playing lego, he came over and put his hand under my shirt to play with my tummy. Not knowing how to react at first, I just laughed it off. However, after a few days, I felt kind of uncomfortable, as the feeling of shock kept arising. I confronted him on the school bus at that time, and he just shamed me and said something like, “Well, you should have said you didn’t like it earlier. It’s been too long already, you can’t do anything about it. Plus, my mom is a lawyer. She said so.” And so young me, fear of not fitting in, fear of telling family, fear of fighting against the so-called “law”, ashamed, I stay silent until a few years later when I finally told my mom.

Indeed, the act didn’t cross the line too much, but things like this, you can call it sexual harassment, or I would simply put it as disrespect. Disrespecting others’ bodies seems to ‘allow’ you to touch others; disrespecting others’ feelings seems to ‘allow’ you to call them names.

Because of disrespect, you overlook someone’s achievements because you have to protect someone else in a higher position; because of disrespect, you think it’s okay to welcome your new employee by saying you would like to have sex with her; because of disrespect, you hide facts and try to fool the person with complaints; because of disrespect, you overlook others’ issues, and assumed that it’s nothing major.

So in my mind, equality is respecting each and every individual, and try to view things without bias. True equality can never be achieved, as George Orwell said in his political novel that someone is always more equal than others, but we can’t stop fighting for it. Day in day out, we keep fighting for equality. And as we can’t reach the perfect state, we can reach a much more stable equilibrium, built upon respect.