A former Uber employee’s blog post, “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber,” has led the company’s CEO to launch an “urgent investigation” into her claims of “abhorrent” sexual harassment.
Susan Fowler Rigetti, an engineer and author, posted the blog on her website on February 19, a month after she left Uber. The post quickly spread around social media. Her tweet about it was retweeted more than 4,000 times in a few hours.
“As most of you know, I left Uber in December and joined Stripe in January,” she wrote. “I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the past couple of months about why I left and what my time at Uber was like. It’s a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go.”
In her post, Fowler Rigetti claims she endured multiple instances of sexual harassment and had her complaints ignored or downplayed by human resources and her managers.
When I look back at the time I spent at Uber, I’m overcome with thankfulness that I had the opportunity to work with some of the best engineers around. I’m proud of the work I did, I’m proud of the impact that I was able to make on the entire organization, and I’m proud that the work I did and wrote a book about has been adopted by other tech companies all over the world. And when I think about the things I’ve recounted in the paragraphs above, I feel a lot of sadness, but I can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous everything was. Such a strange experience. Such a strange year.
You can read her full blog post here.
About four hours after her post went online, Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, issued a statement saying they would be investigating:
Jason McCabe Calacanis, an Uber investor, wrote on Twitter, “Just became aware of @susanthesquark’s blog post & what she describes is obviously not acceptable. Trust management will take swift action.”
Here’s what you need to know about Susan Rigetti Fowler and her blog post:
1. Fowler Rigetti Says an HR Employee Asked Her if She ‘Was the Problem’ & a Manager Told Her She Would be Fired if She Reported Her Manager Again
In her blog post, Susan Fowler laid out a year of issues with managers and human resources while she worked as an engineer at Uber. She started working at the company as a site reliability engineer in November 2015. Within a few weeks, she said she encountered sexual harassment:
On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.
Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on – unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.
Fowler said she was given the choice of either going to another team, or staying with the team run by the manager she reported to HR while knowing he would likely write a negative review of her.
“One HR rep even explicitly told me that it wouldn’t be retaliation if I received a negative review later because I had been “given an option”. I tried to escalate the situation but got nowhere with either HR or with my own management chain (who continued to insist that they had given him a stern-talking to and didn’t want to ruin his career over his “first offense”),” Fowler wrote.
Fowler decided to leave the team:
Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company. As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company. It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being “his first offense”, and it certainly wasn’t his last. Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his “first offense”. The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.
Myself and a few of the women who had reported him in the past decided to all schedule meetings with HR to insist that something be done. In my meeting, the rep I spoke with told me that he had never been reported before, he had only ever committed one offense (in his chats with me), and that none of the other women who they met with had anything bad to say about him, so no further action could or would be taken. It was such a blatant lie that there was really nothing I could do. There was nothing any of us could do. We all gave up on Uber HR and our managers after that. Eventually he “left” the company. I don’t know what he did that finally convinced them to fire him.
Fowler said she also encountered a “game-of-thrones political war” between managers in the background. She said she was blocked from transferring to other teams and was given negative performance reviews so she would be forced to stay in a team. She said her manager gave her the negative review because she was making him look good.
After reporting another issue to HR, Fowler said she had a “ridiculous” meeting with an HR employee:
The HR rep began the meeting by asking me if I had noticed that *I* was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem. I pointed out that everything I had reported came with extensive documentation and I clearly wasn’t the instigator (or even a main character) in the majority of them – she countered by saying that there was absolutely no record in HR of any of the incidents I was claiming I had reported (which, of course, was a lie, and I reminded her I had email and chat records to prove it was a lie). She then asked me if women engineers at Uber were friends and talked a lot, and then asked me how often we communicated, what we talked about, what email addresses we used to communicate, which chat rooms we frequented, etc. – an absurd and insulting request that I refused to comply with. When I pointed out how few women were in SRE, she recounted with a story about how sometimes certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the gender ratios in engineering. Our meeting ended with her berating me about keeping email records of things, and told me it was unprofessional to report things via email to HR.
Fowler said about a week after that meeting, her manager scheduled a one-on-one meeting and told her she was “on very thin ice for reporting his manager to HR.” She was warned she could be fired if she did something like that again.
“I told him that was illegal, and he replied that he had been a manager for a long time, he knew what was illegal, and threatening to fire me for reporting things to HR was not illegal. I reported his threat immediately after the meeting to both HR and to the CTO: they both admitted that this was illegal, but none of them did anything,” she wrote.
Fowler said she when started at Uber, about 25 percent of those in the engineering organization were women. When she left, only about 3 percent of the 150 employees were women.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick addressed the blog post Sunday night on Twitter.
“What’s described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired,” he wrote.
“I’ve instructed our (Chief Human Resources Officer) Liane (Hornsey) to conduct an urgent investigation,” he wrote. “There can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber.”
2. She Now Works as an Engineer at Stripe, a Tech Company That Helps Companies Collect Web & Mobile Payments
Before joining Uber in November 2015, Fowler Rigetti worked as a DevOps engineer at PubNub from August 2015 to November 2015. She also worked as a platform engineer at Plaid from February 2015 to July 2015.
She spent three years as a research assistant at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Research in experimental high energy physics with the ATLAS Detector at the Large Hadron Collider, both data analysis and particle detector instrumentation and design,” she said on Linkedin. “Fun projects I worked on include: electronics upgrade for the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, CMOS radiation hardness, design and test of a fast amplifier for the CMS detector, electronics upgrade for the ATLAS LAr Calorimeter, Higgs to diphoton fake rates, and (my favorite) a search for SUSY GGM and GMSB.”
3. She Has Degrees From Stanford & Penn & Founded an Online Book Club
Susan Fowler Rigetti has studied at Yavapai College, Arizona State University, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania, according to her website. She has a degree in physics from Penn and computer science from Stanford.
Fowler Rigetti recently founded an online book club, Susan’s Book Club.
“Our mission here at Susan’s Book Club is to find the most interesting books (both new and old) and introduce them to our readers,” the club’s website says. “We are passionate about reading books that will change the ways we see the world, sharing and reading great writing, and contributing to sharing knowledge about things that matter.”
According to the website, “Fowler searched for the perfect monthly book club that could send her a new science-related book each month. She contacted publishers and existing retailers and subscription services, asking them to start such a book club, but none of them were interested. Finally, in January 2017, Susan gave up on asking others to make it happen, decided to start her own monthly book subscription service, and ‘Susan’s Book Club’ was born.”
As a member of the club you “receive a new book in your favorite genre every month. Each book is read, reviewed, and handpicked by Susan, so you know you’ll be getting something good.”
4. She Wrote a Bestselling Book About ‘Production-Ready Microservices’
She recently published a book called “Production-Ready Microservices: Building Standardized Systems Across an Engineering Organization,” which hit the bestseller lists on Amazon, according to her website:
One of the biggest challenges for organizations that have adopted microservice architecture is the lack of architectural, operational, and organizational standardization. After splitting a monolithic application or building a microservice ecosystem from scratch, many engineers are left wondering what’s next. In this practical book, author Susan Fowler presents a set of microservice standards in depth, drawing from her experience standardizing over a thousand microservices at Uber. You’ll learn how to design microservices that are stable, reliable, scalable, fault tolerant, performant, monitored, documented, and prepared for any catastrophe.
“Implementing the microservices architecture style is hard, particularly from an operational perspective. This book will help you get it right by understanding what is involved in making microservices production-ready. Regardless of your role, Susan gives you the insights necessary to build an effective production microservices ecosystem,” Mark Richards, an independent consultant, wrote in a review of the book.
“I believe this book is destined to become the de facto reference for designing and operating microservices–the production-ready checklist alone is worth the price of admission!” Daniel Bryant, Chief Scientist at OpenCredo, wrote in a review.
5. She Recently Married Her Husband, the Founder of a Tech Startup, in Hawaii
Susan Fowler Rigetti recently married her husband, Chad Rigetti, on February 10 in Hawaii, according to her posts on social media.
“I married the love of my life, my soulmate today,” she wrote on Twitter.
Chad Rigetti is a former IBM Research employee who founded Rigetti Quantum Computing in 2014.
According to the MIT Technology Review, the small startup company is trying to build a quantum computing chip.
His company has raised about $5 million and has about 15 employers.