The problem with Uber isn't that some employees engage in sexual harassment. The problem is that there's a culture where sexual harassment isn't taken seriously, is tolerated if the perpetrators are "high performing" in other respects, and there's common knowledge that being "high performing" covers all sorts of other ills. No amount of firing of the low-level scum that grows in this environment will fix this issue.
Typically, CEO or COO.
Cut the head off of the human race?
It's not a... perfect metaphor.
please tell me this is a joke right? you can't possibly be asking that question seriously..
If the story is true that HR dissembled and protected staff who were blatantly breaking the law then it is very reasonable to ask "who enabled HR?"
[EDIT] minor grammar fix
This isn't the sort of stuff that I could single handedly prove in a court of law, but frankly none of this comes as much of a surprise. Anyone who's come within shouting distance of that company knows how it operates : heavy on kool-aid & low on self-restraint - an MO that comes straight from the very top.
Not sure what you mean with your question. Do you think it's obvious what the answer is, or do you mean it's not a question that should be asked?
Is it _not_ as obvious to everyone else as it seems to be to me?
It is very obvious though, if your basic working principle is that your fellow comments aren't sexist monsters.
It's a good principle to work off.
It's probably important to consider that even with those numbers, you wouldn't know whether it was scapegoating or not. All they would do would be to allow you to make assumptions, which is more about your preconceptions of what you think they should find than the facts.
> The problem with Uber isn't that some employees engage in sexual harassment. The problem is that there's a culture where sexual harassment isn't taken seriously, is tolerated if the perpetrators are "high performing"...
See, this may be true, but we don't know this. The point of an investigation is to find this out. Since the investigation in question here is internal, and I'd hazard that most of us don't necessarily harbor any hope that an entirely truthful response will come out of it (I for one wouldn't really expect that from a company I thought was more responsible than Uber), but that doesn't mean we should act like probabilities (and probabilities that are rooted in human behavior that is understood to any statistical degree by almost anyone in my opinion), we should be careful about the certainty we represent those outcomes.
In other words, it's all a big swirling mess of hearsay at this point. The problem could be fairly localized but widely publicized, or much more widespread as you state. We don't really know.
Besides, it isn't hearsay, the allegations have been made by some of the victims. Hearsay is something else.
And I can fully believe everyone reporting problems believes they are right while withholding judgment as to whether their interpretation of their situations, which were generally highly emotional and formed during extreme stress, is entirely consistent with reality once the other side has a chance to state their case. We should always get both sides. Humans aren't very good at representing stressful situations with other humans objectively.
What I was attempting to communicate is that there are a few first hand accounts, and numerous news articles and blogs expounding on what those mean. I didn't mean to imply that those that had those experiences were not referring to their own experiences, or that they were being untruthful, but I understand how either of those might have been interpretations of my words. I'll leave them as they are because I don't believe in whitewashing, and let this stand as the correction.
While I think it's important to get both sides of the story, I don't view both sides with the same level of trust. I think those with the accusations are far more likely to have accounts closer to reality in this case, but closer to reality doesn't mean they are accurate representations of the situation when taken by themselves. Confirmation bias is real, and doesn't have to have such an extreme effect as to change someone's opinion to still have a large effect on how people perceive the situation.
I'm not holding out much hope of getting clarity from the investigation.
Note that firing senior employees also doesn't imply that scapegoating isn't going on. If senior HR executives were perfectly in tune with the will of their bosses and then fell on their swords, there's no reason to suspect that the next crop of HR executives will not get the same cultural messages.
These sort of scandals persist because that 'proving' and then cementing the perception that the problem is solved to outsiders is very difficult.
The word "scapegoat" is commonly used to describe someone who gets blamed for something unfairly. Assuming these fired employees were harassing colleagues, then it wasn't "unfair" to fire them.
But you seem to be using it in a manner similar to "fall guy". Where a lower-level wrongdoer ends up shielding higher-level wrongdoers from blame.
The problem at Uber isn't some line level eng or line level management sexually harassed someone; it's that HR and the VP Eng and the CEO all tolerated it. So unless someone whose name goes in SEC filings gets fired, they aren't taking this seriously.
The other responder, dopamean, answered the question considering that context.
They're guilty of sexual harassment, but scapegoats for the culture that gave them free reign for so long.
Is there? I've seen people claim this but I haven't seen any evidence for it. I know Susan Fowler's account is used frequently as basis for that statement and though I don't doubt her sincerity and truthfulness, you can't just extrapolate her experience to the entire (global) company.
 Travis calls Uber "Boob-er" because it helps him (and other execs) pick up women
 Sexual Harassment + Heavy drug use at the global all-hands
 Company group, including CEO, visits escort bar in Seoul
 More "survivor" stories
As another point of evidence, they just fired 20 people for sexual harassment to address 215 separate claims before the separate outside report into the amount of sexual harassment in their company. Maybe they don't deserve your skepticism.
In the very next sentence you offer one such evidence, and then go on to discredit it with you can't just extrapolate.
Right. Because in the first case we're talking about a systemic problem applying to a global company of 12,000 possibly spanning all levels of management as well as its polices and mandates. In the second case we're talking about a person's singular experience - which I've never disputed. The former is a much stronger statement than the latter so you cannot use the latter to prove the former.
Uber's problems with work culture and hostility to women has been an open secret for years. I remember hearing rumors about it since 2014 at least.
None of the recent allegations are surprising to anybody at all who has been aware of what it is like to work there.
Can you explain why you feel that 20 people being fired as a result of a company-wide investigation into to sexual harassment doesn't constitute evidence of a problem?
What are you suggesting by this, that there is an acceptable margin for unacceptable behavior?
>We don't know the context, the exact infraction, and how it was dealt with initially."
We do know the context, the context was an investigation into sexual harassment conducted by an outside law firm.
We know that 31 people are in counseling/training and another 7 were given warning as a result of the investigation. So by comparison the incidents with these 20 were determined to be serious enough that they warranted termination instead of counseling or a warning.
>I can't even tell if that rate is high, average or low when compared with any other company of similar size who would create a special sexual-harassment probe to investigate itself."
I think the fact that 58 people (20 + 31 + 7) needing to be addressed retroactively instead of proactively at the time of the complaint is a pretty good indication there might be a large problem.
.17% is not a huge number.
And in IR 20 serious cases warenting firing Is a lot (I do have hears of dealing with serious cases) I would expect given 20 firings there will be a lot more who are allowed to leave with compromise agreements.
Even how they hired Holder feels like a PR tactic; a man who was against all the US torture techniques (http://fightthefuture.org/articles/the-rescue-of-eric-holder...) and yet prosecuted no one. He is the image of a career, PR frontman.
I'm still going to take Lyft over Uber in cities that have it, and that's only if I simply can't wait for the bus.
It's fine if you want to take Lyft... I have been choosing Lyft from the beginning. But I applaud Uber for doing this investigation. I'm honestly baffled that people are criticizing them for it.
If there are people the investigation missed, that's a problem, but it's a separate issue and we have no evidence of it at this point, do we?
You may be right.
But I don't think policing peoples intentions is a good plan for us. It has all kinds of problems, the main one being intentions are generally pretty unknowable. The other one being intentions don't actually cause any harm, so by policing intentions you take away resources from policing harm.
I think a much better plan is to be very serious about what constitutes right action and wrong action for you, to reward right action and to punish wrong action.
Here's what I suspect the problem is for you: I'm going to guess (and this is just a guess, feel free to correct me) that you do a lot of harmful things, by virtue of your position in society, ecology, and the global economy, but that you've forgiven yourself for these things because you believe your intentions are good, and you're doing the best you can.
This is the dominant moral framework today, so I'm not judging you for it. But I have a different moral framework: I think you are responsible primarily for the harm you case, not your intentions. I would rather you be a harmless person with horrible intentions than a harmful person with good intentions.
But I think for you to transition to that worldview, you'd have to face up to your own ongoing unintentioned harm, which would be extremely painful. So there's a lot of pressure on you not to do that.
Apologies for all of the projection/presumption. I don't actually presume to know any of these things about you, I'm really talking about two versions of myself and just casually speculating about where you might fit into that dichotomy. Again, feel free to say "that ain't me".
The relationship between intentions and actions is rarely so distant as in the example you give -- "I would rather you be a harmless person with horrible intentions than a harmful person with good intentions.". Indeed, I don't know how we would recognize the notion of intention -- thought preceding action -- if they had so little relationship to action.
The importance of intention is nowhere clearer than in the law, where to "knowingly and wittingly" body slam another person is handled quite differently from tripping and falling into them, or slamming into them to push them out of the way of a car and yet inadvertently pushing them into a wall.
But who knows, maybe it's the correct amount of people. But I can sorta understand it coming off as almost symbolic due to the low number.
Though I'm sure it's a likely good assumption that it was immediate.
Seems risky to hire a recent Uber employee at this point because bringing a toxic sexist into the company can inflict massive damage.
Jesus. They are still people. You want to ostracize them from all society and prevent them from earning a living in their chosen career?
'Sexual harassment' is also a catch-all term that can encompass all kinds of actions. It could involve a clueless, inexperienced 20-something asking out his co-worker and misreading her signals - fuck that guy right? Throw him out of society and forget him forever, right?
And I have yet to see any evidence for this "toxic sexist" atmosphere that apparently is part of the Uber culture. This isn't it. 20 people were fired out of 12,000.
If an entire chain of management and HR don't treat a claim like that seriously (no one has disputed the claim), there is absolutely a cultural problem.
Just to verify: are you an Uber employee, then?
You can't publicly claim that you independently verified something and provide absolutely no information on that verification. You are not a Pope.
You started the conversation and chose to share that piece information.
I never doubted her account. But it is anecdotal, and you can't extrapolate her singular experience to the entire company.
How many have to before it isn't a "singular experience"?
Harassment happens in every single company.
The difference between companies is whether or not management takes the problem seriously.
I assure you, batch-firing 20 people for sexual harassment out of 6,700 is not normal. It means that there has been a consistent pattern of management not dealing with harassment - which was exposed upon review.
Sure. I don't disagree with that, even the termination. But I hate the idea of now treating these individuals as modern equivalent of 'untouchables'. OP used incredibly ugly words to describe people he has no clue about, and implicitly advocated for not hiring them.
>I assure you, batch-firing 20 people for sexual harassment out of 6,700 is not normal.
12,000. It's a big company.
>t means that there has been a consistent pattern of management not dealing with harassment
Except we don't know what it means, do we. It could be that they fired a bunch of people to make a PR statement. Or not.
This is the hypothetical example people often give; but that is probably the easiest imaginable case. Fowler's report is regarding a manager who'd been with the company for several years -- not twenty years old unless they started in their teens -- who was a hardened and repeat offender. That seems to be more inline with what actually happens.
Clueless people can be corrected. What we're talking about here is very different.
A person who has been cut from a grad school program for rampant academic honor code violations can be a perfectly-functional member of society, and if no school wants to trust them as a teacher, that's not the fault of the schools.
Personally, I don't have a high opinion of the tech culture though, and I suspect even the people fired for sexual harassment will be employed in another tech company within six months. The money flows too fast and too loose to expect otherwise, and the overall engineer-owner-capitalist-America ecosystem doesn't act as a sufficient deterrent to toxic sexual harassment culture to expect these employees will actually be cut out of the loop. It's a Hollywood environment.
Well, if he learns and grows from the experience, maybe he'll end up better than the ones that didn't fuck up.
--Former stupid as fucking fuck 20 year old
If you would be right, then radical feminists are right in that college students need special classes to tell them what is rape, what is harassment and what is proposal. Majority of non radical people opposed that on the grounds that it is insulting and dudes know.
If at the age of 20 you are so confused, then you are add toxic as dude who does not know difference between boxing match and pub fight. And as rare.
Social interactions and social boundaries are largely a learned behaviour - it is not something that is innate in us. Because there is a huge emotional component when dealing with things like attraction, love, infatuation, jealously, rejection - you really just learn through experience. And by the way, no where am I advocating that companies shouldn't set clear boundaries on conduct in the workplace. Shit happens, and people will fuck up purposely or accidentally and should be held accountable (which may involve termination or even involvement of the justice system - depending on severity). I'm disgusted by OP's characterization of individuals that were fired in this probe, the ugly words she/he uses to describe them and for implicitly advocating to ostracize them from society - people he knows nothing about.
Seriously, if your emotions are that out of control, you are not suitable to live independently. I might be fine to use taxes to pay you counselling through.
I think you and I are too far apart on this. I disagree with your thought process and your conclusions.
No one has an absolute right to work in the industry of their choice. If you join a company that makes your future career more difficult then that's bad luck, but maybe it's also a lesson for us all: speak up for your coworkers when you see bad behaviour, and don't let things escalate to the point where other companies might see you as a bad hire for something you didn't do.
I would not ever hire anyone from Uber. The tech people I've met from there are technologically toxic and disgustingly gross as human beings.
Sorry kids. Is it anecdotal evidence? Yes. Is it based on going to hang with their hangouts? Yes. It is.
Soooooo messed up in every way.
20 is a good start.
Not one of which should ever be tolerated in the work environment.
There should not be 2, much less 20, simultaneously being fired for this.
Otherwise their "funemployment" would be plagued with job interviews and prep.
You don't want your future company to call your current company to give them a heads up that you are leaving.
For this very same reason, companies never ask for reference from your current job.
The UK has a custom to perform an employment and criminal check by a 3rd party company when you join a new company (after you signed a contract and already gave your notice). That's unrelated.
Sure they do. They just give you an offer first and make it conditional on a reference check.
Even if someone wants to genuinely switch job within next few month out of Uber, It would raise eyebrows at next interview table. So Uber gonna have very mall attrition rate now. Every action has both side of coin. :)
They had to BAN sex in the stairwells and drinking on the job
I read several reports of their "kink room", but I never did read any reports that they actually got rid of the "kink room".
- I would think that if anyone is familiar with the Valley, that they would certainly know the Zenifits story and should rightfully-aise eyebrows if they see the positions on a resume...
I wasnt challenging your comment, I wa agreeing with it and adding zenefits to the naughty list.
If you've been working for Uber for the last couple years (in an engineering role, and not visa-restricted), you need to have an answer for why you've remained someplace with so many serious ethical issues. And to be clear, "I needed to pay bills" is a real answer. But you need to have it and be willing to say it and defend it.
And if they were aware, but didn't blow the whistle (after going through the usual HR complaint process and running into blocks there, as others have reported), that is definitely a very questionable ethical choice that deserves future scrutiny, including for anyone hiring that person.
Objecting people just because they've worked for a company-turned-toxic without getting into details seems damn unethical to me. That's no better than racial or other profiling ("they all are like this" mentality) imho.
Right on. A person's ethics will be impacted by the culture they willingly chose to remain in. If that culture is thoroughly toxic, i.e. not just confined to different spaces, then it's is necessary to probe deeper into the reasons why they remained.
In my experience, the people who object most strongly to the consideration of complicity, are also the same people, who at one point or another, went quietly or happily along with wrongdoing.
Their indignation can be distilled to: "Why should I, or anyone, be shamed for turning a blind eye to the suffering of fellow human beings?"
Its also great to see that no company is too big to be raked over the coals over workplace sexual harassment.
I agree in principle - but how do you suggest this be done?
It's not as if harassers are going to cop to it in an interview.
I: "Have you sexually harassed your colleagues at previous jobs?"
C: "Oh yeah, sure, yep, I'll show myself out now."
Nor are companies permitted to answer whether or not someone was terminated for cause, or whether they received harassment-related reprimands.
I think everyone agrees that detecting and filtering out bad actors from your candidate pool is great - but is there actually a practical way to do so?
The "state of the art" around this is back-channeling - calling around to see if you can locate people who have worked with the candidate, and getting the unofficial word on whether or not they're bad actors. This has pretty glaring and obvious issues, and isn't always possible, but we don't really have a better way.
I think profiling people for leaving Uber is highly problematic - but what's the alternative? Ask them if they got canned for harassment, and when they inevitably deny it, just take them at their word?
IMO the lack of this reputation harms startups - some larger companies have been known to take harassment and abuse more seriously than others, and they've attracted a greater share of marginalized demographics. This is great for employees - they have greater safety at work - but bad for the ecosystem, as this is an entire talent pool that startups - who comparatively have little reputation - are missing out on.
The other poster also brings up a good point: not all bad actors know they are bad. Generally speaking everyone is the Good Guy in their own head. That said, there are certainly many bad actors who are aware of how their actions are received and will seek easier environs.
However, Recode notes that Bloomberg was the first to report this info. So, the OP is the best that we have so far until the Holder report is released.
Why are the vocal hacker news commenters against segregated groups? For instance, what would be the issue with places that have selective hiring for individuals that meet their cultural composition and why does that bother you specifically?
Isn't that the case in every location?
In this case, there was harassment, however generally it is understood that "birds of a feather flock together" so wouldn't it make sense to simply find your flock rather than trying to force yourself to mold to someone else's?
I am genuinely curious about this as it seems to be a rising trend where the vocal minority want to enforce their idea of culture and beliefs onto others as if it were a religious or cult like movement that I have seen before in Christian groups.
Or are you suggesting that someone who has been harassed should leave their employer and not complain about it, because the company should be free to sexually harass as much as it wants? Or both?
Are you morally against sexual harassers going to therapy together, or being in business together due to the nature of the moral composition of what a sexual harasser has done, does the amount of sexual harassing or degree come into factor, and at what point is the sexual harassing dangerous to others. Is it dangerous that these people are grouping together, and why would that be dangerous? Is it dangerous when other groups of people group together? Woodworkers, doctors, nurses, pedophiles, politicians, bsdm workers, prostitutes, pimps, rappers, engineeers... I am uncertain as to what you specifically disagree with people of the same kind grouping together?
Isn't this something that prisons, schools, neighborhoods do?
If not enforced or by design, generally it occurs by natural progression regardless.
Onto your second point, I am not sure how you came to this conclusion, everyone is free to complain. I am talking pre-entry, you deduce the nature of the company prior to entry and whether thats an environment you can live within. When you are inside and it changes, you still are a component and can witness the change and deduce whether its something you can live within or find yourself being comfortable with. This is a psychological point and not from a point of morals but a point of behavior.
There are places that I will never apply to or work at because I know that we will not work well together due to the nature of their culture, and I don't complain about them because they have the right to group together in such a way.
We complain once it becomes an issue and harms others, and that is fine. Everyone is okay with this, I find no issue with this.
What I do find issue with, is people going further and applying what works for their specific ideology or culture to others by _force_ through nefarious tactics like you either intentionally or unintentionally have done through position of morals, shaming, bullying, etc..
That is what I have an issue with.
A few years ago I would have said that companies should be apolitical and that they should hire the best people available and have everyone act somewhat professionally.
But now it seems everyone wants companies to be political, liberals want companies to be pro gay marriage, christians want companies to be against it. When companies didn't have to pick sides a liberal and christian could work at the same company, but no it seems we're creating more and more segregated groups.
Then to make matters even worse we have social media policies that prevent you from voicing any opinion not shared by your corporate overlord.
It's a valid point, you also make a valid point but miss the mark on his initial assertion
It seems to me that in this particular case, it's not a matter of "enforcing their idea of culture and beliefs onto others", but just enforcing the law.
We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14499713 and marked it off-topic.
But, to spell the difference out:
Once is asking. Twice is harassment. Propositioning a report is a fireable offense.
There's more to it, but those are the basics.
I'm not, especially when it comes to tech which is full of young 20-somethings, some of whom may be brilliant when it comes to programming and mathematics, but dumb when it comes to social cues and social interactions. A lot of this stuff gets figured out with experience.
>Once is asking. Twice is harassment. Propositioning a report is a fireable offense.
Sure. Sounds like a good general rule that may be too permissive in some cases, and too punishing in other.
And I didn't only refer to 'dudes'. I referred to 20-somethings. Women can be dumbasses too.
I defended dudes here, because they were treated as normally unethical or normally dumbass. Since women were not implied to be less capable, there was no need to defend then.
Look at their job openings to get a sense of how massive of an operation Uber is: https://careers-uber.icims.com/jobs/search?iis=joindot-V101A...
How do they manage the rides? I thought it was handled by the app?
Could I do it with fewer people? Maybe, maybe not. Could I do it with fewer than 12,000 people writing the app and maintaining the backend? Absolutely.
Also, even if you managed to do similar with less people, it still would not be enough unless he would also be willing to break the law as uber is known for.
You're absolutely right. You could probably run Uber with a tenth of that headcount.
The thing is, at a lot of companies - and I'm guessing Uber is the same - there's no incentive to have a small team. In fact, managers are incentivized to have a bigger team. Having more reports, and more levels of management, under you is a status symbol. Plus, people use it to justify taking on bigger roles and more responsibility - "better to give the promotion to the person who already has experience managing a 300 person team and already has experience managing managers who manage managers than the person who's been making do with 10 direct reports."
So a lot more people end up getting hired than perhaps are really strictly necessary. It's a dynamic that probably most high-growth companies fall into at some point. You have to really consciously make an effort to stay lean if you want to.
Of course, what's wrong with having a little fat in the workforce as long as you have plenty of cash in the bank and can still operate effectively? Even if the hiring is driven in part by execs jockeying for position it's still spreading some of Uber's cash out to a broader swath of people. From a societal standpoint it's arguably better for Uber to employ 12,000 than 1,200 people.
1. Running a rideshare app.
2. Customer Service.
3. Union Busting
4. Autonomous Vehicle Development.
5. Misappropriation of Trade Secrets.
6. Developing systems to deceive government regulators.
7. Figuring out how to cut the throats of other department heads aka "always be hustlin'".
8. Poaching drivers from other rideshare networks.
9. Subprime auto financing
10. Techblog rants about tech that breaks when Uber breaks it
11. Rental/leasing programs
12. Generating bogus ride requests on other rideshare networks.
13. Getting dates for CEO ("Boober", lest we forget)
14. Getting CEO invited to celebrity parties
15. Flying Cars.
16. Food Delivery.
17. Autonomous LTL and Truckload carriage.
18. Innovating new ways to break laws.
19. Fending off unwanted sexual advances.
And no, drivers are not included as they are not drivers. Also, there are a lot more than 12,000 Uber drivers. There's probably at least half that in California alone, possibly more.
What's their revenue minus costs of revenue?
If, on the other hand, the spent all 21 billion dollars on paying drivers, driver promotions, marketing, flash sales, and coupons... It most certainly should.
Convince the investors of the company worth?
At scale things can become massively difficult.
The economies of scale large computer systems offer are counter-weighted by the n-squared complexity of larger systems.
Of course, most that don't care don't comment. So the comment section is not a good view of public opinion. Just the vocal minority.
1. don't care that there is sexual harassment at Uber
2. don't care about sexual harassment like that occurred at Uber
3. don't care that other people think most people care
My comment is about those that check off all 3. They are the majority, and they don't comment.
For me, I only check off #1 and #2, hence the comment.
It could mean you don't find it interesting or relevant to your life. Or it could mean you don't think sexual harassment is morally wrong. Or something else.
For example, I could say that I "don't care" about cholera deaths in Africa. I think it's a tragedy and hope the situation improves, but I'm not seeking out news about it or basing life-decisions around it. I "care" but I don't really care... at least not to the point that it changes my behavior.
Then again, I'm not jumping into discussions on cholera stories to tell people how much I don't care about cholera deaths. So, it feels like you're trying to make some big statement, e.g. taking a stand against "political correctness" or claiming sexual harassment isn't morally wrong.
Sexually harassment can definitely be morally wrong. But I'm not particularly outraged, mad, or upset by the sexual harassment scenario that happened at Uber, specifically. I don't think all sexual harassment should be lumped together, and doing so can lead to witch hunts.
Anyway, the point is that it's a much less outlandish statement than how I interpreted your original comment.
Other subjects, generally, don't have an ideological bubble around them.
Another user on this thread is saying I will get banned for my comment, which is a good illustration of how the problem is exacerbating.
Then there is bubble of people who claim that serious harassment is all the time around to almist all women and most companies and non victims (e.g. males) don't care.
Which of these bubbles were you trying to prove wrong?
I am sure there are many things that you don't care about that others would think you should, but it doesn't mean you are wrong and they are right. The world isn't black and white.
A claim contradicted by its mere existence in a post claiming to be from someone in the subject group.
An odd unexpected consequence of this is that by trying to get fewer people to care, it is in fact helping to solve the problem.
"If no one cared about extrajudicial gangs roving the streets murdering people, the problem would be solved. After all, I wasn't murdered. That's simple logic right there"
Let's put it this way. If everyone enjoyed extrajudicial gangs roving the streets murdering people, then it would be the opposite of a problem, wouldn't it? It would be a good thing.
A necessary requirement for a problem to be a problem is that we have to care about it, or at least the effects of it.
The argument is sound.
I think Americans are way too sensitive when it comes to sexuality. They repress it way too much.
For reference, here is the accusation from the blog post:
On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn't. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn't help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.
What if she didn't complain to HR, rebuffed his advances, and he subsequently decided to demote her position, or cut her pay, or even just move her desk out of an office and into a cubicle?
Would it be alright then?
Bringing sexual advances of any kind within a situation where there is a power difference (ie, manager vs lower-level employee) is a recipe for disaster within a company. Ideally, it has nothing to do with being too sensitive about things sexual. While I'll agree with you that, in many cases, American views and such on sexuality are messed up, in this case it is pretty clear why this kind of thing isn't tolerated.
Between individuals on the same "level" within a company is one thing (but still frowned upon and should generally be avoided); provided the advance is innocuous enough (ie - asking for a date, for instance), and it isn't repeated if rebuffed - and the individuals aren't in any power difference (C-level to management, management to lower-level employee, etc) - then it may be permissible.
But even here - if I was an owner of a company - I would want this to be verboten, for the simple reason that should the advance be rebuffed (or worse, things go great - then something happens and things fall apart) - it can lead to strife between employees (at a minimum, the two involved, but it could easily lead to "side taking") - which can harm productivity, cohesiveness, and ultimately the image of the company should it become public knowledge.
If I'm the manager and by doing that there is possibility that I could get sex with minimal downside then its alright.
If I'm the woman and him doing that make me uncomfortable then its not alright but if I do like the guy or maybe I can use it to advance my position in the company then its alright.
Women (mostly) who have relationships with superiors in order to advance their careers. Or women who have relationships with superiors because they are attracted to them (often because they are attracted to power/authority/resources) and as a side effect advance their careers.
This is unfair and demoralizing to other employees, gets the wrong people promoted and consequently damages the organization. Yet it seems like this is hardly ever mentioned as a problem.
Perhaps this is more of an issue in Europe where I'm based, while the US tends to be more strict even in this regard?
It's difficult to do your best work when you don't feel safe in the workplace. It's also difficult to advance your career when your boss is demanding sexual favors in exchange for promotions or favorable work assignments. Fundamentally these are unfair to the people being harassed, which is why laws and workplace norms exist to discourage them. They also expose the company to a large amount of legal liability.
I'd suggest listening to people who have had to deal with this issue in the past, or paying better attention during harassment training the next time you are asked to do it at your workplace.
I can understand that feeling uncomfortable is not good. Lots of things make lots of people uncomfortable. Maybe the issue is that Americans become uncomfortable too easily? Or do not know how to handle feeling uncomfortable?
That's false; of course they did. She was told by HR that after her manager propositioned her, she had to switch to another team, or likely suffer a poor performance review.
In another conversation with HR she was told that CA is an at-will employment state and she was on thin ice for reporting her manager to HR.
In other words she was punished for declining a proposition.
That's not true.
"It was literally someone asking another adult if they want to have sex."
Not at all. It was a boss repeatedly asking their subordinate if they want to have sex. Huge difference.
There are plenty of people to have sex or relationships with. You don't need to look to your direct employees.
If someone propositions me at a bar, I can roll my eyes and walk away. If a friend propositions me, I can say "no" and decide whether or not I want to continue being friends with them. If my manager propositions me, I'm put in a -- not just an "uncomfortable" position -- but a really bad one that might seriously impact my life and my family's life.
About a year ago I momentarily misinterpreted a conversation over company chat with my new manager and thought he was about to sexually proposition me -- similar to what Fowler experienced. I don't want to give too many details, but it turned out to be _entirely_ harmless, there was just a cultural divide and he had a poor choice of words and the rest of the conversational context was unfortunate, but I pretty quickly figured out what he was talking about without him being any the wiser. But in that one second, it was like my entire world stopped. Like, heart pounding, vision narrowing, stomach dropped.
I'm a 28 year old woman, I've been propositioned plenty of times before (from "graphic drunk bar type stuff" to "politely asked on a date by a co-worker in another department" -- not a big deal in either case), but it's never caused such an immediate physical reaction like that. My mind just started racing, trying desperately to figure out how to handle it, staring at the screen in a literal physical cold sweat, and coming up with nothing good.
I was new in the company and I needed my manager's approval to succeed. He sits right across from me. I had just gotten married two weeks before, just gotten back from my honeymoon, my savings are depleted and I can't pay my mortgage without my job. My husband can't support both of us. I barely know my manager -- what would he do if I said "no"? If someone's capable of overstepping a huge boundary like this -- sexually propositioning a new employee they're managing -- what else are they capable of? Is this what I'd have to deal with for the rest of my time at the company? How do I stop it? Can I stop it? There are no female co-workers in the office -- there's no one to talk to for help.
I'm very glad (understatement) that this turned out to not be the case, and my momentary panic was just the result of a misunderstanding, but it really gave me insight into the problem that cases of sexual harassment like this can cause. This is NOT just "one adult asking another adult if they want to have sex." I've been asked for sex before -- even by relative strangers. I've asked other people for sex before. Heck, in my younger, single, wild days, I've consented to sex with relative strangers! I've gone on to have good friendships with people I've turned down sex from. I'll even admit to fantasizing about the odd boss or co-worker over the years, sure, but I keep it in my head. But actually being propositioned by a manager, in real life, on a Tuesday morning at your desk, in the real world with real world implications? It was absolutely terrifying for reasons that have nothing to do with sex.
I get this argument, but I would posit to you that perhaps the modern take on sexual harassment IS society growing up. Consider changing your mindset - imagine that a new hire is just bad at working with people. They don't consider other people's ideas, or they're just generally rude - whatever it is. Just generally hard to work with. Now try to think about somebody who makes inappropriate propositions to women in the workplace: this is just another brand of the same problem. If you can't get along with some of your fellow female coworkers because they don't feel comfortable with you, then you're not a good team player.
In other words, instead of thinking about society as having gone soft, think about it like we go hard. We demand excellent people-skills in the workplace. If you can't take the heat, and other people feel annoyed, offended, and yes harassed working with you, then you're going to have trouble keeping work. Tough titties. Working at Uber requires excellent technical skills - why not social skills too?
Anyway, I would put it to you that if you don't find this compelling, you might be giving too much primacy to the sensibilities of poorly socialized men. If you find yourself asking "why should these poor saps have to suffer just because they can't talk to girls?" then that's a sign you have a blindspot. Food for thought.
I disagree with the idea that we should bully, and ostracize people from society for making mistakes or simply not being able to interact socially with others as well as we all want.
That doesn't fix anything it only makes things worse.
We should be focusing on teaching, and embracing that people make mistakes and working on fixing those issues, if someone refuses to acknowledge that when it is seriously risking the safety of those around them, that is when it becomes a problem that should be handled with grace.
I am heavily against this group ostracizing, demeaning, and bullying tactic. It is getting disgusting, you can see it constantly on twitter, and it is starting to float onto hacker news.
In a world with men and women in the same workspace, being able to interact comfortably with the opposite sex is not just a life skill. It's part of your job description. So I'm not offended by companies that demand high "performance" in this regard.
With all that said, I 100% agree that the increasing frequency of "trial by twitter mob" is an unacceptable development. If somebody got fired for poor job performance, you wouldn't raise a twitter storm shaming that company for having made a poor hiring decision, nor would you plaster that person's mugshot everywhere to warn others of making the same mistake. You would just say "sorry, it's not working out" and send them on their way. So in that regard I think we are actually in complete agreement - making a mistake shouldn't make you a pariah. But I'm fine if it makes you fired.