- Just before Uber revealed its low-level number of women employees (15.1%), a former site reliability engineer published her experience with the company — a revealing blog post that claimed her reports of harassment by her manager were never followed up on by HR, reports Fortune.
- Susan Fowler claimed that her team manager asked her for sex. Fortune says that when she approached Uber’s HR department with screenshots of the manager’s inappropriate comments to her, she was told HR wouldn’t look into the matter because her complaint described what would be his first offense. Also, she said the company didn’t want to ruin the career of a “high performer.”
- Uber CEO Travis Kalanick responded to Fowler’s allegations by saying that the behavior she described was abhorrent and that anyone who commits these acts will be fired. He said he instructed Uber’s chief HR executive to begin an investigation and hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, both from the Covington & Burling law firm, to conduct an independent investigation into Fowler’s claims.
This Uber issue reflects one costly problem that tech industries in particular are facing thanks to "brogrammer" cultures and a lack of female employees. By law, HR must follow up on every claim of wrong-doing covered under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VII protects workers from a hostile work environment; the refusal of the HR team to follow up on her alleged complaint certainly could have helped create such an environment.
Startup HR departments are often small and have fewer resources to work with (though Uber by now is no small startup company). But a good defense for HR departments of all sizes is to ensure the company has proper channels for harassment investigations and more responsive channels for complaints. Investigate fairly and evenly — even "high performers." Keeping lines of communication open and staying away from any hints of favoritism is key.