Have Whistle, Will Blow

While it is commendable to see the way in which Uber’s board has responded to the endemic and pervasive sexist culture at Uber (including an ill-timed comment by a board member this week), I wonder how many other companies and employees are uncomfortably sinking down in their chairs, covering their heads and hoping they do not get caught?

Some time ago I was witness to, and a minor victim of, the dark and unspoken epidemic of harassment in the workplace. Again, it’s a disease that afflicts people at all types of companies in all locales worldwide; but in an environment where fast money and quick success is celebrated, the tech industry is particularly at risk.

A senior member of our team was rumored to have allegedly touched women (allegedly dozens) inappropriately. Most women said nothing, some left the company, and finally a few stepped up. Hearing rumors, feeling unsure of what to do and ultimately doing not much of anything has haunted many of those who were on the periphery. When I received aggressive, frightening, sexual text messages, I reported this person (he said they weren’t meant for me…allegedly).

What happened? Not much. He was given a payout and a hush, hush exit. Women were told that the statute of limitations prevented them from doing anything (absolutely not true for assault) Victims were given a number for a counselor and everyone went on their merry way. Rumors circulated (often with wrong info and often accusing the women involved of ruining this man’s career…having a peek at his Linkedin profile, though, I’d say he did okay) Senior people who previously overlooked his alleged behavior seemed to disappear (‘in my opinion’ – anyone who watched The Good Wife, gets that one).

Did it happen again somewhere else? To another person? Another company? Possibly.

So here is why it’s not as easy to just point fingers at Uber, we need to look at ourselves, our work places, the rumors, the facts. Women (and men) need to feel safe and okay to report harassment and assault. In the UK, where this occurred, it was only after the horrific Jimmy Saville reign of terror was exposed that many realized how easy it is to say ‘it’s not my problem’ or to not report rumors spoken in hushed tones at the water cooler.

In fact, my supervisor later said to me after he left that I should be considerate of the impact this all would have had on him and his family. The impact, that is, of leaving with a payout and no obligation for anyone seeking a referral in the future to be told the truth of what happened.  Doesn’t feel like a massive blow… in my opinion.

So have that whistle ready to go. It’s not just Uber it’s you and you and you. Don’t look away.

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