These Stories From Uber and Tesla Show Everything That’s Wrong With Sexism in Tech

by Laura McMahon


Last week, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler blogged about sexist and discriminatory treatment from her employer. Her detailed account, shared almost 22,000 times on Twitter, outlined each alleged occurrence of sexism by her superiors. She claimed that Uber’s human resources department refused to discipline her manager when he propositioned her on her first day, even though it wasn’t an isolated incident.

‘It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being ‘his first offense’, and it certainly wasn’t his last,’ Fowler wrote. ‘Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his ‘first offense.’ The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.”

Tesla has become the latest tech company to come under fire for systemic discrimination in the workplace since Fowler’s published account last week. The Guardian issued details of a lawsuit filed by engineer AJ Vandermeyden against the enlightened technocrat Elon Musk and his company last fall.

Her lawyer, Therese Lawless, is no stranger to such cases; she represented former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao back in 2012, and encourages women in similar positions to come forward. “It’s very difficult for women to come forward. They’re concerned that their career is going to be hindered or jeopardized.”

The lawsuit brought forward by Vandermeyden through Lawless claims that she experienced “unwelcome and pervasive harassment by men on the factory floor including but not limited to inappropriate language, whistling, and catcalls.”

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On top of that, it alleges denial of overtime pay and rest breaks, and describes how she was referred to as a “whistleblower” for her concerns surrounding cars “sold in a defective state.”

An employee speaking with Mashable on Monday further described the discrimination and sexism that exists within Silicon Valley, particularly at Tesla. ‘There’s definitely more of a culture of fear here,’ the employee said. ‘It’s more top down, and people are generally more scared than anything. It’s culture of fear, in my opinion, it’s just comparing to what I know and hear versus Google, Facebook, Uber, we seem less transparent.’

But we shouldn’t be splitting hairs over which Tech Bros Club is behaving most terribly. This is merely another reminder of the Elephant in the Valley; that is the unconscious biases embedded in the tech field. While there has been subtle progress, with diversification in the STEM industries and increasing public attention for these discriminatory practices, the invisible hand of the market remains detrimentally male-oriented.

Eradicating such issues completely will be a long road. But so long as people continue to stand up and speak out, hopefully we can gear up for some changes in the near future.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

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