Well Done FT

Found 13th Dec 2017
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When Susan Fowler joined Uber in late 2015, the company looked like an unstoppable juggernaut. It was expanding rapidly around the world and becoming the most valuable start-up of all time. For software engineers like Ms Fowler, there was exciting work to be done on the app that was changing transportation. Employees at San Francisco’s hottest company proudly wore their Uber sweatshirts around town.

But two years later, those sweatshirts are no longer visible and Uber is in crisis. Beset by one setback after another, the company has become a symbol of everything that is wrong with the hard-driving tech world. I

n large part, that shift is due to Ms Fowler. In February she published a blog about her time at Uber that lifted the lid on a company that was out of control.

Ms Fowler described the sexual harassment she experienced, including her boss propositioning her for sex on the first day she joined his team.

The human resources department turned a blind eye to her complaints, saying he was a “high performer”.

When she wrote about this and other incidents, her post quickly went viral. Ms Fowler had pulled on a thread that would lead to a great unravelling. In the process, the 26-year-old from rural Arizona who had to teach herself at the local library to get into university, found herself at the centre of three of the most important trends of the year.

Her description of the reality of working at Uber generated a crisis that has raised questions about the very viability of the company. They also formed an early part of the growing backlash against the power and influence of the Big Tech companies.

Most of all, her intervention was one of the most important testimonies in what — as the year comes to a close — has become an avalanche of allegations about sexual harassment and assault that have brought down some of the most important men in media, entertainment and business, and which hold the potential to improve the way women are treated at work permanently.

“Women have been speaking up for many, many years, but were very rarely believed, and there were almost never any real consequences for offenders,” Ms Fowler told the Financial Times.

“This year, that completely changed.”

Inside Uber, her story immediately struck a nerve. The account was so damning because it detailed the complicity of Uber’s HR department and top executives who protected the harasser.

A few days after the post came out, employees wept at the company-wide meeting that was held to discuss it. Uber’s board launched several investigations and adopted far-reaching corporate governance reforms.

The company set up a hotline for harassment complaints, drawing tips that resulted in more than 20 employees being fired.

Outside of Uber, the reaction was just as dramatic. Investors started to question whether Travis Kalanick, the controversial chief executive (who used to refer to the company as “Boob-er” because it helped him meet women) had created a company whose culture had become poisonous.

Low morale inside Uber contributed to a series of damaging leaks, including revelations about the mishandling of a rape victim’s medical records and the existence of Greyball, a technology used to mislead regulators.

Mr Kalanick vowed to change, but by June investors demanded that he step down. “Susan Fowler’s letter was the tipping point for us,” says one Uber investor,

Freada Kapor Klein, a partner at Kapor Capital. “We had been trying to get the company to address this behind the scenes. But with Susan’s blog post, it was — that is enough, it has so crossed the line, it is time for drastic action.

” Uber could not have found a more unlikely nemesis than the petite Ms Fowler. She grew up in what she describes as poverty as one of seven children in a small rural Arizona town with just 600 people. Her father was a preacher, prison chaplain and at one stage a high school teacher.

Ms Fowler never graduated from high school, instead working as a babysitter and ranch hand, and teaching herself in the local library. Lacking a formal education but determined to go to university, she submitted a list of books she had read as part of her college application.

After winning a place at Arizona State University to study philosophy, she then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, earning a degree in physics. In her final year at Penn, she wrote a blog entitled “If Susan can learn physics, so can you”, explaining how she caught up despite having no secondary maths education.

By the time she reached Uber at age 24, she was a physicist and computer scientist, and wrote her first book about software architecture while working at the company.

Since leaving Uber last December, Ms Fowler, who now works at the payments start-up Stripe, has kept a low profile. She says she did not imagine the post would have such a big impact. “I expected the reaction to die down, but it never did,” she says. “It became much bigger than me, so much bigger than Uber.”

Ms Fowler is currently eight months pregnant and on bed rest and, due to health concerns agreed to a written, rather than a face-to face interview, for this article. Ms Fowler says she felt compelled to blow the whistle because “it was the right thing to do”. The fact her background is so different from her peers in Silicon Valley may have also played a role, she adds.

“When I was younger, I used to think that my unconventional upbringing was a weakness, but over the past few years I’ve learnt to see it as one of my greatest strengths,” she says. “I never had a single thing handed to me, I had to fight for everything I wanted, like my education.

When I was harassed and discriminated against, I fought as hard as I could — because I hadn’t gone through all of that, I hadn’t worked so hard my entire life, just to have someone take it away from me.” At the time Ms Fowler published her blog post, the Uber sexual harassment scandal might have seemed like an isolated incident. But the ripples travelled well beyond one company. This year has seen an unprecedented number of women speak publicly about sexual harassment — and unprecedented consequences for their harassers. In Silicon Valley, female entrepreneurs recalled how pitch meetings with potential investors could lead to unwanted groping or propositions. The wave of allegations prompted the firing and resignation of several prominent venture capitalists — including the chief executive of SoFi, the online lender, and Justin Caldbeck, a co-founder of Binary Capital.
and her sister was great in Eastenders...
I knew her brother mark
Don't forget Pauline and Arthur
yes, yes all the Fowlers deserve a medal, except perhaps Arthur?!
He got a bench
harlzter14th Dec

and a frying pan

Which had previously been used to fry fish and had a plaque on it stating "he loved this plaice"
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