My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber
By Susan Fowler
In December 2015, Susan Fowler was settling into a new job as a software engineer at the technology-transportation company Uber when her boss sent her a series of disturbing chat messages. After asking how her work was going, Fowler’s manager, “Jake,” began complaining about inequities in his relationship with his girlfriend. “It is an open relationship, but it’s a little more open on vacations haha,” he wrote, to Fowler’s bewilderment. “She can go and have sex any day of the week. … It takes a herculean effort for me to do the same.”
It became clear to Fowler that Jake was propositioning her. She saved screenshots of the conversation and sent them to Uber’s human resources department so that he could be appropriately sanctioned. Instead, they told her that Jake was a “high performer,” and that it was his first offense, so they “didn’t feel comfortable giving him anything more than a stern talking-to.” It was up to Fowler to move to a different team within the company to get away from him. Both the inappropriate comments and the company brushoff are the kinds of experiences that women at all levels of the income spectrum have come to accept as inherent to the professional world. Rather than quietly tolerate it, though, Fowler, who was 25 at the time, decided to make a fuss.
What happened next received abundant news coverage: In 2017, Fowler published a blog post describing the harassment she experienced at Uber, including multiple incidents of discrimination and corporate bullying. The post went viral and the company started an investigation. Suddenly Uber, one of the fastest growing and most valuable companies in Silicon Valley, found itself at the center of several ethical and legal scandals, culminating in the departure of the company’s co-founder and C.E.O., Travis Kalanick.
Fowler’s revelations came eight months before The New York Times and The New Yorker published explosive allegations about Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuse of women, and helped catalyze the #MeToo movement. What is less well known is the remarkable back story that came before Fowler found herself at the center of these newsworthy events. “I wasn’t supposed to be a software engineer,” she writes in “Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber,” her sharp and engrossing memoir. “I wasn’t supposed to be a writer, or a whistle-blower, or even a college graduate, for that matter. If, 10 years ago, you had told me that I would someday be all of those things — if you had shown me where life would take me, and the very public role I would end up playing in the world — I wouldn’t have believed you.”