WHISTLEBLOWER - My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber
By Susan Fowler
NOTA DE LEITURA
Susan Joy Fowler nasceu em 1990 (ou 1991) no Arizona, de uma família muito pobre com 7 filhos. O pai era pregador evangélico, tendo também outras actividades para conseguir algum dinheiro. Não frequentou a escola pública, sendo ensinada por seus pais. Era também autodidacta procurando sempre livros que devorava em permanência.
Com muita força de vontade, conseguiu entrar na Universidade da Pensilvânia, mas não se formou em Física devdo a um incidente estranho quando foi assediada por um colega estudante perturbado que a perseguia. Passou então a estudar informática.
No início de 2015, trabalhou na empresa Plaid e no mesmo ano na empresa PubNub, mas logo a seguir foi contratada pela Uber em Novembro de 2015.
Esteve um ano na Uber, onde se queixou de assédio sexual tendo saído ao fim de um ano. Conseguiu que a administração da empresa reconhecesse que ela tinha razão. Trabalhou depois na empresa Stripe como engenheira de software, mas em Julho de 2018 foi contratada pelo jornal New York Times, como perita em tecnologia informática.
Entretanto, em 19 Fevereiro de 2017 colocou um
post no seu site que chamou Reflecting on one very strange year at
Uber e que está em
Este texto teve o inimaginável acesso de 6 milhões de consultas.
O livro é autobiográfico e está muito bem escrito.
A autora casou com Chad Rigetti in 2017 e tiveram uma menina.
O site dela é www.susanjfowler.com .
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Feb. 18, 2020
Her Blog Post About Uber Upended Big Tech. Now She’s Written a Memoir.
By Sheelah Kolhatkar
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.”
Fowler grew up with six brothers and sisters in rural Arizona. Their father worked as a local evangelical preacher who studied foreign languages at night and dreamed of being a writer. Their mother home-schooled the kids, taught Fowler to play the violin and instilled a voracious appetite for books. Although there was, on occasion, no running water or food in the fridge, Fowler professes to have been oblivious to the fact that her family was poor. Eventually her mother had to get a full-time job as a bank teller to help pay the bills, leaving Fowler, who was a teenager by then, on her own. She says she didn’t fully realize how precarious the family’s financial situation was until later, when she was exposed to the ways that people outside of her community lived.
Fowler does not provide a satisfactory explanation as to why she was unable to attend the local high school — one of several moments in her story when infuriating or baffling things happen to her that seem to be presented in an oversimplified or one-sided manner, which undermines the strength of her narrative. Still, fortified by her reading of Epictetus, Plato and Isaiah Berlin, Fowler turned these difficult circumstances into a potent form of motivation. After confronting the fact that she was on track to end up living in a trailer park and working minimum wage jobs, she studied the admissions criteria of colleges around the country and decided to teach herself the courses that she needed to get in. “It was as if someone had flipped a switch in my brain, as if something in my subconscious finally recognized that my survival was contingent on fighting for a better life, and every part of me was ready to win that fight.”
Incredibly, through ingenuity and hard work, Fowler ended up at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied particle physics and helped design a circuit board for proton therapy cancer treatment. “It was a magical time in my life,” she writes. “I was on top of the world, and I’d never been happier.” But her trajectory takes a distressing turn when a male student with mental health issues whom Fowler says she barely knew seemed to start stalking her. The university’s handling of the situation, in Fowler’s telling, is shocking and worthy of investigation; it makes the school look almost as unprofessional as Uber. The episode derails Fowler’s plans to go to graduate school and become a physicist, which leads her to Silicon Valley.
“Whistleblower” is a powerful illustration of the obstacles our society continues to throw up in the paths of ambitious young women, and the ways that institutions still protect and enable badly behaving men. Fowler, who is now the technology op-ed editor at The Times, opens her book with a dedication to her infant daughter: “It is my hope that when you are old enough to read this book, the world described within it is completely unrecognizable to you.”
Sheelah Kolhatkar is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street.”
My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber
By Susan Fowler
260 pp. Viking.
Los Angeles Times
FEB. 20, 2020
Hours after Susan Fowler received her company laptop at Uber, a chat message popped up from her boss. He wasn’t offering her a friendly welcome to the new engineering team she’d just spent the last couple of weeks training to join, or suggesting the best place to grab a sandwich in the neighborhood. Instead, on that day in December 2015, he began sharing intimate details of his sex life with his girlfriend, with whom he said he was in an open relationship.
Fowler, then 25, was horrified by her boss’ behavior and quickly reported it to the company’s human resources department. But her supervisor kept his job and never faced consequences for his actions; Fowler was told it was his first offense and he was a high performer.
It was the first in a series of HR mishaps that ultimately led Fowler to write a February 2017 blog post detailing what she described as an unethical, misogynistic and emotionally abusive workplace at Uber. Within hours, her manifesto went viral, eventually prompting an internal investigation at the ride-share company that helped lead to the ouster of co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.
Three years after she pressed publish on her blog, Fowler has written a book expanding on her time at the technology start-up: “Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber.” In it, she describes a poverty-stricken Arizona upbringing during which she was homeschooled by her parents but then took control of her own education. Against the odds, she made it to the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied particle physics.
Since speaking out against Uber — something she did months before the #MeToo movement took the culture by storm — Fowler has been hailed as an instrumental silence breaker. In 2017, she appeared on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the publication’s Persons of the Year alongside Ashley Judd and Taylor Swift. In 2018, she joined the New York Times as a technology editor for the Opinion section. Now 28, she has a 2-year-old daughter with husband Chad Rigetti, the founder of a quantum computing company.
Fowler works from her home in the suburbs of the Bay Area — “pretty far out of San Francisco,” though she will not reveal where, due to privacy concerns. Sifting through the newspaper’s op-ed submissions, Fowler said she’s observed a shift in attitude from those who work in Silicon Valley.
“A lot of venture capitalists used to pitch their businesses by saying, ‘We’re the Uber of this or that,’ and that has stopped,” she says. “It’s not a company to aspire to anymore. A lot of good companies, their first thought is: ‘I never want this to happen here.’ And so that gives me a lot of hope.”
At first, I really didn’t want to write the book. I wanted to close the door on that chapter of my life, because it’s so painful to talk about. Having my whole life out there for everyone to read about and talking about the most intimate, personal things in my life — that was really, really vulnerable and very scary for me.
But I thought about it so much, and I realized I had to write the book for two reasons. The first was that I really wanted to help and inspire people who might be going through similar situations. I’m such a book reader, and reading other people’s experiences and words helped me. I realized I could write that book for the people of the future who might be deciding whether they should speak up or what to do about the mistreatment they faced. The second was that all the world knew about me was my 3,000-word, very carefully constructed blog post. That was what defined me to the world, and I really thought it was important to tell my whole story.
Yes. I think that’s pretty natural, when someone tells you what you’re experiencing isn’t real or important. I definitely felt, at times, like, “Oh my gosh, am I messing up? Have I really lost sight of everything?” I kept myself sane by building a bubble around myself. Working at this company that had values that were very different from my own — like aggression and toe-stepping — didn’t ring true for me. I didn’t like feeling that that was what I had to do to succeed at the company. So those things stayed outside [the bubble] and I tried to remember: I want to be kind. I want to be just and truthful and compassionate. Those are the things I’m going to focus on, and I’m going to judge myself by my standards.
A big part of my understanding was learning that this kind of behavior is illegal. Propositioning your staff is sexual harassment, and it’s illegal. A lot of people don’t realize the gravity of that kind of treatment. It’s important to educate yourself about what your legal rights are. Federal employment law guarantees you a workplace free of harassment and retaliation. This isn’t just a he said/she said or someone being oversensitive.
My parents really raised me to always do the right thing. I grew up very poor, but they really instilled in me and my siblings that it’s not what you have but who you are that matters. I grew up reading the Stoics and Immanuel Kant, and they talked about how so much of life is beyond our control. But there are some things I can control, and at Uber, I could control how I wanted to tell my story.
I didn’t talk to many people about it, because sometimes they just wouldn’t believe me. But slowly, I met other women in the industry, like [tech journalist] Sarah Lacy, who told me, “You’re not crazy.” That was such an important moment for me, to know I wasn’t being paranoid and these things really were happening. Another thing that was very helpful to me was there was a documented history of Uber hiring private investigators. They had a history of using these intimidation tactics. After all this happened, I asked the new Uber CEO whether they still had private investigators following me and he said they had “killed all that crap.” That was more evidence and confirmation for me.
I was just really shocked. I didn’t know if it had been me that did it because so much came out after my blog post — it was just the tip of the iceberg. It’s too overwhelming for me to think about.
I don’t work there anymore, so I can’t speak from direct experience. Many of my friends have left. I do hope that it’s a lot better. I’m hopeful that it is. They’ve made some good moves around forced arbitration, and that’s very encouraging. What I would love to hear from them is that that was the old Uber, and they’re not like that anymore.
I hope that my blog post encouraged people. I don’t want to be one of those people who takes a bunch of credit. It was many women’s voices over the span of many years.
I cannot say and should not say anything on that subject. But nothing can stop me at this point. I have done so much to make sure that every single word in this book is true, to the best of my knowledge. I saw the impact my blog post had, and I’m so excited to see what this book inspires.
After the blog post, some of those experiences were really scary. I do have a lot of fear around what might happen. I think the worst. The thing that scares me the most is if I would hear that these places haven’t changed. It’s scary to blow the whistle. It’s so absurd that I have to be so terrified just of telling my story and saying, “These things happened to me.”
I’m banned from their service. I’ve tried to sign up before, and every time it tells me I can’t make an account. I use Lyft and I use BART.
Wed 11 Apr 2018
Susan Fowler’s plan after Uber? Tear down the system that protects harassers
Sam Levin in San Francisco
Sam Levin in San Francisco
In an exclusive interview, Susan Fowler – the engineer who kickstarted a reckoning on sexual harassment in Silicon Valley – says the industry must end an obscure legal clause that prevents people like her seeking justice
Susan Fowler has a simple explanation for her decision to become a whistleblower: It was her only option.
The software engineer had no idea that a blogpost detailing her experience of sexual harassment and discrimination at Uber would spread across the globe and pave the way for the ousting of the company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, and many powerful men in tech. The impetus for publishing the 2,900-word story was an obscure legal clause that prevented her from seeking justice in court.
“I was appalled I had unwittingly signed away my constitutional rights,” the 26-year-old told the Guardian. “Somebody had to step up.”
Fowler, whose name has become synonymous with the fight for gender equality in the workplace, is now using her accidental celebrity status to fight what’s known as “forced arbitration”. It’s a practice that allows companies to push employee complaints into secretive hearings, which hide labor violations from the public, silence victims with non-disclosure agreements and often protect serial offenders.
The system has been widely used for decades, but the standards of what’s acceptable in corporate America have dramatically shifted since Fowler came forward. Much of the contemporary #MeToo reckoning can, in fact, be traced back to her 19 February 2017 blog, which foreshadowed the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the uncovering of sexual harassment and abuse in entertainment, media, publishing and a plethora of industries.
Fowler is modest about her impact and in a recent wide-ranging interview said she remained surprised about her fame in the tech world and beyond: “I’m still processing.”
Although she’s outspoken on Twitter and graced the cover of Time magazine alongside Taylor Swift and Ashley Judd as the “Silence Breakers” Person of the Year, Fowler said she is “really introverted and really shy”, adding, “It’s hard for me to get out there and talk.”
But speaking about arbitration and new California legislation to combat the practice comes easily to Fowler, who is now on maternity leave from her job at the tech company Stripe: “This would be the biggest thing you could do to stop the cycle of harassment, discrimination and retaliation in the workplace.”
Part of the reason her account of “One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber” went so viral was that by all measures it seemed she did everything right to speak up about documented and blatant harassment – yet was failed at every step.
She alleged that as soon as she was hired, a manager sent her inappropriate messages over the company chat, but that HR brushed aside her complaint and told her to find another team. Fowler wrote that the company protected this man despite claims from multiple female engineers, and despite evidence of numerous instances of discrimination, a manager threatened to fire her if she continued reporting to HR.
Eventually, she quit.
“I think about what I went through and even worse what I saw some of my co-workers go through,” she recalled, “and I think what would make it so this would never happen again?”
The stories of abuse Fowler has heard since speaking out have been devastating, she added: “They ruin lives. They destroy careers. This is such unnecessary suffering.”
Fowler said she was shocked when she realized that Uber effectively forced all its workers as a condition of employment to waive their basic rights to even allege labor violations in court. And so did every other company in the industry and beyond. “I didn’t know how systemic of an issue it was.”
Fowler, who said she no longer uses Uber to get around, has recently been outspoken about another population affected by her former company’s tactics – passengers who say they were sexually assaulted by drivers. In March, court records revealed that the company has tried to stop a class-action lawsuit by forcing women into individual private arbitration, a move that critics say would cover up a pattern of abuse.
Fowler is now advocating for a proposed California bill that would prohibit employers from forcing staff to waive their right to bring labor claims in court.
In addition to women in tech, the legislation aims to support vulnerable low-wage and “gig economy” workers who suffer wage theft, discrimination, harassment, assault and other abuses, but are often unable to file complaints due to mandatory arbitration clauses, said the California assembly member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who is introducing the bill next week.
“You have women from all walks of life really standing together and saying, hey this affects all of us.”
California often leads the nation in progressive labor protections, but corporations have used arbitration to essentially erase those gains, added Caitlin Vega, the legislative director of the California Labor Federation, the bill’s sponsor: “Our goal is to restore workers’ access to a fair and open process.”
While companies like Uber and Google say they strive to be leaders in diversity and inclusion, they have openly resisted these reforms. Microsoft announced it was ending forced arbitration in harassment cases earlier this year, but no other big companies have followed.
Fowler argued that the industry’s stubborn commitment to the status quo directly impedes diversity efforts at the notoriously male-dominated tech firms. Fowler said she recently met YouTube’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki, after an event and asked her if she would consider waiving mandatory arbitration clauses. The Google executive wasn’t very receptive, Fowler said.
Uber’s new CEO also recently told Fowler on Twitter he would “take a look” at her suggestion, but it’s unclear if the company is considering reforms or would oppose the legislation. An Uber spokesperson claimed the company currently has an “opt-out provision” for arbitration, but declined to say when it was adopted or comment further. Google did not respond to inquiries.
Fowler said her newborn daughter motivates her to continue fighting and using the massive platform she never imagined she would have: “I realize that I have people listening to me, and I can’t squander that opportunity.”
Sun 1 Mar 2020 ·
Susan Fowler: “When the time came to blow the whistle on Uber, I was ready”
Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler has written a memoir about her fight with the company over sexism – and she hopes it will help other women in the tech industry
Before Susan Fowler was a whistleblower she was a violinist, and before she was a violinist she fed fruit flies to spiders that were milked for their venom at a small Arizona business known as Spider Pharm. In February 2017, Fowler was thrown into the public eye after she published a damning blogpost exposing the toxic sexism she experienced working as a software engineer at Uber. And in her new memoir, Whistleblower, she explains how she came to shake up one of the world’s most valuable startups. But, despite the title of her book, Fowler defies one-word labels. She is a musician, a writer, a physicist, a philosopher: a person who demands to be seen, she has written, as more than “that woman who was sexually harassed”.
Six million people read Fowler’s blogpost in which she chronicled her time at what was then the No 1 disrupter in Silicon Valley. In the post – titled “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber” – Fowler recounted how she was pestered by her new boss on her first official day at the company. “He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t,” Fowler recalled. “It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him.” Fowler immediately reported the conversation to HR.
The manager was let off the hook because he was a “high performer”. That was just the beginning of the sexism Fowler would face there. Over the course of her year at Uber, she was given negative performance reviews by another boss, who wanted to prevent her being promoted and thus keep her and other women on his team, and was told she was “the common theme” in all the reports she made to HR about sexist comments. In one bizarre incident, 120 male engineers were rewarded with official leather jackets, while the six women engineers were told that jackets for them were unaffordable.
Fowler’s blogpost was instantly explosive. It was shared about 22,000 times on Twitter alone, and Fowler recalls going to a book shop a few hours after posting and overhearing two people “arguing about whether I was telling the truth”. A day after the post, former US attorney general Eric Holder was hired to conduct an independent review on Uber’s working environment; the investigation was to be overseen by Arianna Huffington and Uber’s chief HR officer. Fowler’s post inspired the tech industry’s MeToo half a year before the #MeToo hashtag even existed, as other women came forward with stories of sexism in Silicon Valley. In the summer, venture capitalist Dave McClure resigned and wrote a blogpost called “I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry” after the New York Times reported he had sent sexually inappropriate messages to a potential employee. In December 2017, Fowler and four other women (among them Taylor Swift) were chosen as Time magazine’s people of the year, “the silence breakers”.
“I have no idea,” Fowler says over the phone from New York, when I ask why her post gained such traction. “At the time no information I had told me that my story would be treated differently from anyone else’s.” Fowler had spent a year at Uber trying to get the company to care about sexism and bullying – her complaints had always fallen on deaf ears. “I was speaking the truth in a system that doesn’t value the truth, but as soon as you go out of it, then speaking the truth actually has an impact. It turns out a lot of people care… not everybody is interested in ignoring bad behaviour. I learned I had to go outside the system.”
In truth, it is likely that the response to Fowler’s post was connected to a wider backlash against Uber that was occurring at the time (the “Criticism” section on Uber’s Wikipedia page now includes 21 separate items). A month before Fowler’s exposé, Uber agreed to pay $20m to the US government after the Federal Trade Commission accused the company of misleading drivers about potential earnings, while six months before that, the press had begun to uncover sexual harassment by Uber drivers. After a BuzzFeed News investigation, Uber revealed there had been 170 customer reports (by English-speaking users) with a “legitimate claim of sexual assault” between December 2012 and August 2015, while a freedom of information request by the Sun found 32 London drivers had been accused of assault between 2015 and 2016.
Holder’s investigation into Uber concluded that the company’s culture was broken and advised improved HR training and better complaint tracking procedures. Holder also recommended that Uber “review and reallocate the responsibilities of Travis Kalanick”, Uber’s CEO at the time. Kalanick reportedly had knowledge of sexual harassment allegations within the company and failed to act, and had a reputation himself for inappropriate behaviour (in 2014, he boasted about his status in the company attracting women – “We call that Boob-er”). On 21 June 2017, he resigned as CEO.
On her first day at Uberversity – Uber’s three-day-long training programme for new recruits – Fowler and her class were told that they weren’t allowed to date “TK”. Confusion abounded as the instructor told them “that she knew all of us wanted to date TK, but it was, she said with a sigh, against the rules”. It wasn’t until later that Fowler realised TK was Kalanick – in Whistleblower she recounts a brief interaction where she encouraged him to dance to improve the mood at a Christmas party. How much does Fowler believe Kalanick’s resignation solved the problems at Uber? While she believes a culture of workplace bullying originated from the top, she also describes the company’s problems as “systemic”.
“At Uber, every time something happened I would escalate it, and eventually got to the point where I was sitting across from the CTO [chief technology officer], and telling him everything that was going on. He promised to fix it and promised to take it seriously, just like all the HR people before,” Fowler says. “And then he sent someone from HR to speak to me and it was the same thing: this is their first offence, they’re a high performer, we don’t feel comfortable punishing them, we’ve given them a stern warning. I remember thinking: ‘This isn’t just one manager, this is every HR person here and everyone up my management chain…’ I had to leave.”
That chief technology officer is Thuan Pham, still Uber’s CTO today. According to an investigation by digital media company the Information, Pham was allowed to keep his job after sharing evidence with Holder that proved he took Fowler’s case seriously after their meeting. She describes feeling hopeful after their conversation and angry and tearful when she finally heard from Pham’s HR liaison, who said Uber would not fire a manager who threatened her job after she reported him to HR. Fowler had told Pham how that manager had blocked her transfer to another department so he could earn kudos for having women on his team (when Fowler joined Uber, 25% of its engineers were women – by the time she left, they made up just 6%).
When asked how she feels about the fact that Pham is still employed by Uber, Fowler is diplomatic. “What I do hope is things have changed, and that what happened to me won’t happen to anyone else again,” she says.
Most of Fowler’s friends have now left Uber, and she says she has no insight into how it is run today. “I hope that things are getting better – it’s been three years!” she laughs. When she wrote her blogpost, she was working at another startup, Stripe, but just over year and a half later, she joined the New York Times as a technology editor. She sounds very happy when she speaks of her career in journalism, and seems pleased to declare herself “outside” the tech industry now. In Whistleblower’s epilogue she describes her new priorities: writing, learning languages, reading Go, Dog. Go! to her infant daughter.
“It was hard to revisit,” she says of writing Whistleblower, “These were some of the most extreme and painful experiences of my life.” It’s no wonder that Fowler is so happy to have moved on – after her blogpost exploded, private investigators began prying into her personal life, attempting to discredit her. Strangers would ring her family and friends and ask questions about her past, rumours spread that Uber competitor Lyft had paid her to write her post, men followed her on foot and in cars. “It was terrifying because I didn’t know what they were looking for or what their goal was, or what they wanted to do with the information,” she says. “It was very, very scary.”
Yet despite these experiences, Fowler wants readers to go away thinking not that she is “the woman who was harassed at Uber” but rather “the woman who stood up and spoke out about harassment at Uber”. Less the story of how Fowler became a victim, Whistleblower is more of a guide to how she became a hero. She is most animated during our conversation when talking about the philosophers she read as a teen who informed her moral code – Plato, Epictetus, Isaiah Berlin.
“I did not have control over my circumstances but I did have control over my character, the decisions I made, the actions I took, and the things that I said. And that was so important for me.”
Fowler’s determination to blow the whistle on Uber had its roots in an incident in her past when she felt she had “very much been morally obligated to speak out and didn’t”. While studying physics at the University of Pennsylvania, Fowler befriended a student named Tim, who became suicidal. When she sought help from the administration, she was told that Tim was her problem. Tim grew increasingly erratic, and threatened to kill himself if Fowler did not return his romantic affections. When Fowler sought help again, the university blamed her for upsetting Tim and tried to remove her from classes she shared with him before rescinding her master’s degree. When she pursued her complaints, the university claimed to have “evidence” that she lied about her relationship with Tim (they wouldn’t show her this evidence). Though she contacted lawyers and considered suing, she ultimately “decided to move on with my life”.
“It’s amazing to me how everything that happened in my life then was preparing me for this moment,” Fowler says today. “I learned all these big lessons so when the time came to blow the whistle on Uber, I was ready.” By the time she worked at Uber, Fowler says, it was “second nature” to screenshot, report, and forward any “weird” interactions, as well as save this evidence to the cloud and print off hard copies. She says her book is a way to share those lessons with others. “The most powerful thing you can do is tell the truth, and the most powerful way you can tell the truth is with all this documentation. Then nobody can say it’s a ‘he says, she says’ situation because look, I have the evidence.”
Though these lessons are universal, Fowler’s account is intensely personal. She doesn’t reference #MeToo or write at any length about accusations of sexual assault by Uber drivers. Her story is very much her own – she documents living in poverty, falling in love with the violin, getting her first job at Spider Pharm aged 11, and home-schooling herself. She paints a picture of a ferociously independent and determined person: as a student at Penn, she would fall asleep immersed in her textbooks, eager to teach herself the science and maths she needed to keep up. She also admits to things that private investigators would no doubt have loved to dig up – after her father died of brain cancer when she was a student, she checked herself into a mental health facility.
“I almost didn’t include that… but I realised I didn’t want people who’d been through something similar to think they couldn’t speak up too,” she says. Her book is a way to provide a “fuller picture” than a magazine cover, she adds, to show that you don’t have to be the perfect victim to blow the whistle.
“I want to encourage people to speak up no matter what, and the best way for me to do that is to be open about my life.”
Can we really expect individual women to find solutions to the problem of systemic harassment? It’s one thing to inspire women to speak out; quite another to persuade them try to change the conditions in which harassment occurs. “I know, that’s the paradox, right?” she says. “That’s the painful part… because we know it’s very scary and we know what happens to women who speak out.” In the end, though, she says: “You have to do what’s right for you – in myself I felt a deep moral obligation.”
The jury is still out on whether meaningful changes have occurred in Silicon Valley in the three years since Fowler’s blogpost (another memoir released in January, Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener, also describes an industry rife with sexual harassment). Uber isn’t even the first startup where Fowler faced discrimination. After university, she was hired by the financial services company Plaid, where she learned her male peers were being paid $50,000 more than she was. After that, she worked at software company PubNub, where her boss made gasp-inducing statements that led Fowler to believe he “truly, deeply, passionately hated women”.
All in all, it paints a depressing picture of life as a female engineer. Fowler says she “realised I really wasn’t welcome in those environments”, but also says she doesn’t want to dissuade other women from entering the field. “I don’t want to discourage any young women from pursuing their dreams. I think the best thing they can do is understand what their rights are and stand up for themselves and advocate for themselves, and then when things start to go wrong just speak out. The more of us who speak out, the louder our voices will be, until they just can’t be ignored.”
Fowler’s memoir ends with her riding in a Lyft – Uber’s rival in the US. Is it a final “fuck you” to Uber? Evidence for conspiracy theorists to pounce upon?
“They’re the only ones who will drive me around!” she laughs. “Uber banned me, so I can’t sign up. I tried signing up and it said they can’t complete my registration, and I’m like, ‘Yeaa–aah, I wonder why!”
• Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber by Susan Fowler is published by Viking .