Software engineer Susan Fowler posted on her blog on February 19, 2017, a detailed and lengthy account of sexual harassment by her former direct supervisor at Uber, and how the company ignored her accusations after she reported them to the human relations department.
“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,” Fowler wrote. “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.” In response, Uber stated it was opening an internal investigation into the claims.
Fowler’s account provides further evidence of the sexism and hostile work environment women routinely face in the tech industry. Widely held negative stereotypes by men about the abilities of women engineers and tremendous bias and discrimination against women create both high barriers for women entering the male-dominated field and significant obstacles in their career advancement.
Fowler’s experience at Uber highlights the pernicious impact of rampant sexism at tech companies. Fowler wrote, “When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another eng organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%. Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization.”
Nearly a decade ago, the Harvard Business Review published a groundbreaking study on women in science, engineering, and technology entitled “The Athena Factor.” As their male colleagues’ careers were advancing, women’s start to stall, and many become “marginalized by hostile macho cultures.” After 10 years of work experience, the researchers reported that 41% of women in tech leave the tech industry, compared with just 17% of men.
A 2016 survey by Women Who Code showed women continue to leave the tech industry in mid-career at an alarming (56 percent) rate. According to Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code, women in tech are marginalized by passive forms of sexism that, over the course of a career, slowly edge them out completely. While overt acts of sexual harassment may be less common today than in the past, Percival observed that “what is far more difficult and almost insidious are the things that are subtle, the unconscious biases that really result in a kind of death by a thousand cuts.”
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Is Against the Law
Under California law, employers must provide workplaces that are free of sexual harassment which is defined as unwanted sexual advances or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. There are two primary types of employment harassment: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment.
• Unwanted sexual advances or propositions;
• Visual conduct: leering, making sexual gestures, displaying of suggestive objects or pictures;
• Verbal conduct: making or using derogatory comments, slurs and jokes;
• Verbal abuse of a sexual nature, graphic statements about an individual’s body, sexually degrading words, suggestive or obscene letters; and
• Physical conduct: touching, assault, impeding or blocking movements.
While demonstrating a hostile work environment often requires showing a pattern of offensive conduct, a single incident may create a hostile environment. Some factors considered are whether the conduct was verbal or physical, how offensive the conduct was and whether the harasser was a co-worker or supervisor.
Contact A Sexual Harassment Attorney At The Dolan Law Firm
Chris Dolan and the employment attorneys at the Dolan Law Firm have a long and successful track record in assisting women who have been sexually harassed and discriminated against on the basis of their gender. We represent female employees who have experienced unequal pay, lack of promotional opportunities, hiring discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation for submitting complaints of harassment and discrimination, or who have been wrongfully terminated.
We work closely with our courageous clients through each step of the legal process and are dedicated to achieving justice for them. Please call us today at 415-636-8160 or complete the form on our contact page. We will review your case for free, confidentially, and with no-obligation on your part.