Uber Is Far from Alone When It Comes to Sexual Harassment

Image via HuffPost

Uber isn’t perfect, but many other companies are just as bad.

Uber, the San Francisco-based ride-sharing company, has faced a few notable problems recently before hitting news reports once again this past week. The company, which has been berated for its ‘ghost drivers,’ its ‘Greyballing’ policy, and the inability for regulation to touch its market share, was most recently criticized for a sexual harassment scandal. It highlights the prevalence of inequality in today’s workplace and displays why it is necessary for large corporations to start cracking down on issues of gender equality.

The news story first originated with site reliability engineer Susan Fowler, who wrote in her blog about the reasoning behind her decision to quit working at Uber after a year. Fowler describes that on her very first day on the job, her manager told her that “he was looking for women to have sex with.” Her blog documents a year of behavior like this, as well as other women in the company who had similar experiences. At the beginning of her year at Uber, the company was “over 25% women.” By the time she had left, “the number had dropped down to less than 6%.” This continued to get worse, with Fowler being summoned by HR, only to be told that she was the problem—and that STEM jobs were less suited for women. (Fowler’s blog post is here).

While this all happened in early 2017, Uber just finished its investigation into Fowler’s claims and made headlines when they fired 20 employees from the company.

It is important that Uber is commended for this change, but it is equally important to discuss the implications of this action for other companies that might follow suit in trying to make gender equality in the workplace a reality. Fowler’s story is undercut by problems with the Human Resources department and the hiring practices at Uber, which favored men and had no regard for the propositioning actions of “high-performing” men.

This move also echoes some of the largest companies today, who are taking efforts to prevent the reactionary scandals like the one Uber faced earlier this year. In November of 2015, Salesforce adjusted the wages of female employees so that they matched the earnings of men in comparable roles. In the summer of the same year, Netflix made a policy that offered a year of paid leave to both new mothers and fathers. Many people, corporations, and public policymakers have tried to enact laws that make the gender wage gap clear through transparency.

However, these moves are not enough; we need to recognize that these companies are only doing things that should have been policy in the first place. Pay inequity in the workplace in comparable roles is a reality, and it is partly impacted by childcare responsibilities that women disproportionally assume.

Equity in new parent leave as well as pay will be an important milestone to look forward to, as long as companies continue to enact policy that forms that equity. This also has external impacts that might not be initially noticeable—the fertility rate in the US has decreased, owing perhaps partly due to the fact that women are waiting to get married because of their wish to be a part of the workforce before having to leave to raise children.

Uber’s problem highlights most of these problems isolated above. While the company has faced criticism for good reason, it was only the fall company that had to deal with a problem in a reactionary stance. Every other company that hasn’t taken steps of prevention is equally to blame, which is something that will become more obvious as women demand equality and fair treatment from the workforce.

Some other interesting reads based on this piece:

Uber fires 20 people – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/06/technology/uber-fired.html?mcubz=1&_r=0

A Study on Gender Inequality in the Workplace – https://www.summer.harvard.edu/inside-summer/gender-inequality-women-workplace

Uber investigating Fowler – https://www.recode.net/2017/3/2/14792348/susan-fowler-uber-sexual-harassment-law-firm

Statistics on Pay Inequality and Discrimination – https://iwpr.org/issue/employment-education-economic-change/pay-equity-discrimination/

Year In Review: Discrimination – https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/12/gender-equality-workplace-2015/422328/

Uber’s Greyballing Practice – http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-uber-greyball-20170505-story.html

Uber’s Ghost Drivers – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/09/22/ubers-ghost-drivers-are-scaring-passengers-into-giving-them-mone/

Alexis Datta is a student at New York University's Stern Schools of Business.

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