Late last month, software engineer Susan J Fowler shared her story about working at Uber, the wildly successful ride sharing app. In an honest and detailed account, she exposed a number of aspects of the company and its management that made it difficult for her to foster career mobility and build a non-toxic work environment. If you haven’t already, we highly suggest you give it a read.
After reading Susan’s story, we at the WIB Wire feel compelled to address some of the topics that were brought up with the hope to start conversations and reflections amongst members of the Women in Business community. Considering it is our mission to serve the predominantly female students of Cal Poly and the College of Business, I wanted to share the core points in our conversation and emphasize what we believe are the important takeaways of Susan’s story.
If you’re in a toxic environment, never try to convince yourself that you have to deal.
When we graduate from Cal Poly and start our first jobs, so much of what we experience will be completely new to us. New people, new processes and perhaps the most daunting, a new sense of place within a company or group. It can take years to gain your footing while working full time and it’s arguably one of the most impressionable times in our adult lives. While it can be difficult to come to terms with something that challenges you to think in a new way, or adjust an expectation you may have had for a long time, there is a sharp distinction between a difficult environment that positively challenges you and one that is detrimental to your overall growth. It is never justifiable to feel as though your opinion is valued less based on anything other than your mind and what you bring to the table, and it is never okay to feel as though you are being taken advantage of for another’s gain. These are not new challenges to push through: it’s a mistreatment of your value and your contribution. You are an asset and have the leverage to control your environment.
Do not base your decision to work for a company on its brand recognition and public perception of success.
Cal Poly students are in the position to be recruited by a lot of exciting and innovative companies. By being so close to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, our peers matriculate into companies with a lot of name recognition and that are creating some of the most innovative new technologies in the world. However, it’s important to note that some of these companies are also known to have repeated mistreatment of sexual harassment claims and have had problems with alcohol abuse. What I cannot emphasize enough is that the passion that drives you to work somewhere should not be distorted by the public acknowledgement of its products and services. And let me be clear, there is no textbook way to really understand an environment before you work there, but there is so much that can be done to access information that is not so readily available. Before you decide to commit to an offer, pull on your network and talk those who may already work there, or recently left. Be prepared, and ask the strategic questions to ensure that your core values align with theirs. Stick to your values and use your best judgment to decipher if the organization is genuinely listening.
Pay attention to see who around you is thriving and whose opinions are heard less.
There is a lot that can be understood by taking a step back and observing the dynamics around you. It is even more powerful to observe the actions of those around you and see the discrepancies betweens those actions and the supposed values of company. Listening is one of the most advantageous tools in any working relationship and strategic observation can be really powerful. It is often said that the best leaders are the one who listen more than they talk. Trust what you observe, and if something does not feel right to you, it probably isn’t.
Find a community who supports you at work. Lean on them and collaborate, often.
In whatever you do, it’s important to have allies. While we all have our own personal support systems (friends, family, etc), it’s encouraging to feel as though you have a work community that supports you in ways that your immediate team does not. Once you find this network, it may enlighten you about your work environment in ways that you were not perceptive to, prior. For me, at Cal Poly, this community has largely been my friends and peers within Women in Business and it is my hope that, when I enter the working world, I will foster a community that encourages conversations like this and find mentors who will elevate me, instead of creating a new barrier to work around.
Since Susan posted her story, hundreds of reflections like ours have been published online, sharing reactions, comments and how many have experienced similar harassment within their work environments. Additionally, many actions have been taken by Uber to investigate their management and workplace environment. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick has commented on Susan’s article, calling it “abhorrent [and] against everything [Uber believes] in.” He has also met with over 100 of the female engineers at Uber, who communicated that the sexism within the department was a ‘systemic problem’  .
2/ I’ve instructed our CHRO Liane to conduct an urgent investigation. There can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber.
— travis kalanick (@travisk) February 20, 2017
Our biggest hope is that this story does not just fall away as something vaguely remembered or looked over as a mere anecdote months and years from now. Susan’s story is all too common — and it is unacceptable if any college student interprets it as an inevitable reality after college. Women in Business was created to build, support and empower the young women of Cal Poly, and the WIB Wire intends to promote those who epitomize our mission and find lessons in others who have worked against us. We hope that our conversation may compel you to start one of your own.