Uber is facing yet another discrimination scandal after a manager who was recruiting a female engineer defended the company by saying “sexism is systemic in tech”.
On 14 March, an engineering manager at Uber tried to recruit Kamilah Taylor, a senior software engineer at another Silicon Valley company, for a developer position at the San Francisco ride-hailing startup, which is struggling to recover from a major sexual harassment controversy.
Taylor, who provided copies of her LinkedIn messages with the Guardian, responded by saying: “In light of Uber’s questionable business practices and sexism, I have no interest in joining.”
Taylor was stunned by the reply she received from Uber. The manager, who is a woman, wrote: “I understand your concern. I just want to say that sexism is systemic in tech and other industries. I’ve met some of the most inspiring people here.”
The exchange, part of which Taylor posted on Twitter, has sparked widespread backlash as yet another example of Uber failing to take responsibility for a male-dominated workplace culture that fosters misogyny, discrimination and sexual misconduct.
“I was really shocked,” Taylor, 30, said in an interview on Thursday. “To say, ‘There’s lots of sexism in tech,’ wouldn’t you want to be better than that? Why are you telling me that? Is that your bar?”
Taylor declined to name the manager, saying she didn’t want to single out the individual but shine a light on a “pattern of people at Uber … not taking the situation seriously”.
A spokesperson said in an email: “We are investigating but this message was not sanctioned by Uber’s recruiting department.” The company said it was also working to improve its recruitment efforts by “ensuring we have diverse panels of trained interviewers”.
The manager’s comments – which were mocked and criticized by other women in tech – come as Uber is reeling from a steady stream of public relations crises, including numerous executive departures, a viral #DeleteUber campaign, news that the company deceived police, a high-stakes intellectual property lawsuit and an embarrassing video of CEO Travis Kalanick yelling at an Uber driver.
In February, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler went public with explosive allegations of sexual harassment and rampant discrimination, claiming management protected a repeat offender because he was a “high performer” and threatened to fire her for raising concerns.
Uber has an ongoing investigation and has vowed to reform its culture, this week organizing a conference call with reporters led by board member Arianna Huffington. The Huffington Post founder faced backlash for saying sexual harassment wasn’t a “systemic problem” at Uber.
Taylor, who co-authored a book called Women in Tech, said she was frustrated by Huffington’s comments and decided to publicly post about her communications with the manager in response to Julie Ann Horvath, another prominent woman in tech, who tweeted: “I feel like every one of my friends and mutuals in tech has known about Uber’s trash company culture for years.”
The Uber manager – who said she was recruiting Taylor for an Android or iOS developer position – also wrote in her defense in the LinkedIn message that the company has “many” female engineers “who are passionate about making the workplace more just and inclusive for women” and that she agrees “we have lots to do”.
But Taylor said the underlying dismissiveness seemed clear, adding: “This is why people drop out of Silicon Valley.”
Before Fowler went public, many in the industry were aware that Uber was a particularly difficult workplace for women, Taylor said. “To try to pretend to us it’s not that bad or no worse than any other tech company, it’s definitely a false narrative.”
Taylor was also frustrated to learn that the same Uber manager responded very differently during a similar exchange with a male engineer. Taylor discovered that a male friend of hers, who was also recruited by the manager, sent a similar reply saying he wouldn’t want to work at Uber given recent stories about its workplace.
Instead of offering the “sexism is systemic” line, the manager responded: “Please keep in mind that not all the [organizations] at Uber have the terrible culture described in the blog posts. We have some good orgs at the company or I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
The male engineer, who provided screenshots to the Guardian and requested anonymity, said he was not swayed by the manager’s defense: “I don’t want to be associated with a company at all if I have moral objections to how they operate.”
Unlike other tech corporations, Uber has long refused to release demographic data about its employees, though it disclosed last month that women make up only 15% of the company’s workforce in engineering, product management and scientist roles.
Uber, which is now hiring a chief operating officer to work alongside Kalanick, is also facing backlash after a recent Bloomberg News story suggested that investors were interested in three white male candidates for the position. (A spokesperson said the company was considering women and people of color.)
Shireen Mitchell, founder of Digital Sisters/Sistas, which promotes women of color in tech, said the Uber manager’s comments were reflective of broader problems at the company and in the industry, which often places the burden of addressing diversity on women and people of color.
“This is the world we exist in,” she said. “It’s the cycle of not even acknowledging there’s this problem … They’re not interested in correcting this. They want to remove the PR nightmare.”
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