Author by: Amy Vertino
When I read Susan Fowler’s story, my blood boiled. I am not able to sleep. My friends kept sending me updates on the story and insisting on letting my own experience be made public. I am sure there are plenty of women still working at Uber’s San Francisco office who have many such stories to tell. Here is my story.
I am afraid to make my name public. Let’s call me Amy. For reasons only the #ubervictims know, let’s refer to the villain of this story as Mike#2.
I am a midwestern girl in her late 20s working in a silicon valley start-up trying her best to survive in the tech industry as a woman who hates wearing make-up. My paycheck is 18% less than my less qualified male colleagues. I was raised by a working class single mom who taught me to work hard, be kind to others and contribute to the society in any way I can. I went to public schools my whole life and worked two jobs to put myself through a top private college. I have a degree in Computer Science and a Master’s in Information Systems. I am 5 foot 7, Caucasian, and I never dye my dark hair. I like New Balance sneakers, love Golden Retrievers and hate wearing heels.
After graduating from college with my Master’s, I started my career as a Data Analyst in a tech company in the Midwest and left when it was acquired by a Chinese firm. When I received the job offer from Uber, I could not hide my excitement. I bought my friends fancy drinks and kept bragging about my big move to the big beautiful city of my dreams. I imagined spending weekends hiking with my new nerdy, liberal, open minded buddies who respected human beings irrespective of their gender, sexuality, or religion. I was also nervous to face a culture so different from the humble midwest. I remember how the interviewers constantly tried to trigger me and insulted my intelligence to see if I break under pressure. While they succeeded in triggering me, they failed to break me. I am not someone who breaks under pressure. Also, I have a strong moral compass and I stand up for what is right and fight what is wrong. Therefore, it hurts me to say that despite my grit, I was not prepared to deal with the abuse and dehumanizing treatment I received from my supervisors and colleagues at Uber. Uber finally broke me by destroying my dignity as a human being, and reduced my aspirations by attaching their worth them to a female reproductive organ. Like they did to Susan, Uber killed a part of me that was most precious.
The first two months at Uber was an exhilarating experience. I sat amongst the cream of the crop of Silicon Valley in fancy rooms where new innovations were being thought of at rocket speed. We had engineers who are stolen from Google, NASA, Apple and even a guy who used to work at a high position for the Federal Government. My team was made up of 21 people. There were just two women in the team, and I was one of them. The other female member soon switched teams leaving me as the sole female team member. The next few months at Uber were grueling, unforgiving, exciting and exhausting at the same time. Deadlines were set without any justification and we were expected to meet them at any cost. It was normal for me to get to work at 7 in the morning and leave late at night with only a thirty minute break in between. Our work revolved around database and networking scalability. Some days, I loved working 12 hours straight. But, there were days when everyone in the team were on the brink of giving up. The supervisors were often arrogant, impatient, and aggressive with their expectations. It was normal for our supervisors to openly appreciate the performance of one member over the other and publicly demean members who did not perform as per their expectations. Chauvinistic, racist and homophobic attitudes were far too normal at Uber. Once in a group chat, team members referred to a new Asian American recruit as slanty eye joe. It was normal for guys to refer to other guys as fags when they didn’t participate in private parties where sex and drugs were involved. It was normal for guys to openly refer to attractive female colleagues as sluts when they refused to go out with them. They had private chats where guys wrote sexual fantasy stories about female colleagues and supervisors where they performed all sorts of demeaning acts on the women. I confronted the guys on my team whenever they passed lewd comments about female supervisors but never felt comfortable confronting guys who were not in my team.
However, one day last summer, long after joining Uber, things changed. This is where Mike#2 enters the story. Mike#2 is a man in his 40s who was pulled from another silicon valley tech giant just two years ago with a multiple six figure salary. Apparently, Travis personally interviewed him and liked his combative style. Married with two children, he is well known for being abusive towards anyone below his pay-scale and for being casually racist towards foreign employees who are here on work permits, and abusive towards women at work. He was once overheard saying that Uber could not have been able to afford a Beyonce performance at their private Las Vegas party if she were white. He once openly threatened to let go a pregnant female offshore employee in India for “not making an effort to look presentable”. He did not appreciate the lack of lipstick and frizzy hair on a 9am call which would have been late at night in India. Several months after joining the team, he once bumped into me alone by the coffee machine before an early morning meeting. He was wearing sweatpants and a wrinkled polo shirt. After casually asking me if I was married or in a relationship, he told me that he liked women in heels. “You know what heels do don’t you?” he smirked while placing his hands on his behind so as to suggest that they make them look bigger. He then patted on my shoulder and squeezed it before walking away. Later, on several occasions, he hinted at having a private dinner with me at a real niceclub and once jokingly said that if I played my cards right i’d have a serious date with a rich sugar daddy so i’d never have to work. He would constantly pass uncomfortable compliments on my hair and my attire at inappropriate times and in the elevator right before a meeting. He often minimized my work contributions by referring to my reports and data as “shredding paper” when the team is around. I complained to the HR department two times about this behavior. Interestingly, I got the same response from them that Susan mentioned in her story. They kept telling me that they really appreciate my guts to come forward but that this was the first complaint they received about him and that he is highly valuable to Travis. I was told to continue putting in my best efforts and keep him happy so that my performance reviews will be in good shape. In essence, the HR department blackmailed me that if I make noise, I’d be fired. I was distraught by the HR department’s response especially considering that most of the HR folks I dealt with were women. I bit my tongue and continued to work in the team as usual. I thought that I would soon be able to switch teams and everything will be Ok.
On a bright and windy day last summer, while working on some updates to Uber’s driver payment system, Mike#2 proposed an idea which to me seemed as unfair to the drivers. It would block the payments to the driver if a customer complained about the ride before a ride ends. Fortunately, this never made it into the app. When we were brainstorming this idea, I openly spoke up against it. I told them that it was unethical to block a driver’s payments without researching the complaint to make sure it was the driver’s fault. Many of the Uber drivers in some countries do not own the cars they drive. They are owned by rich people who give the drivers a fixed monthly salary and take the money Uber pays the drivers from their bank accounts. So, if a payment is blocked because of a customer complaint, the drivers may go home without the pay they need to feed their families. When I voiced my concern, Mike#2 looked at me and said “There is no place for ethics in this business sweetheart. We are not a charity.” I was upset to hear such an insensitive comment. I repeated my point and this time, I raised my voice to show that I was unhappy with his attitude. Visibly angry, Mike #2 covered the microphone of the conference phone, he reached over to hold my hand tightly and told me to stop being a whiny little bitch. Two of the men in the room looked at each other and laughed while the rest of the men, like me, were shocked. For the next few minutes, it seemed as if my brain was paralyzed. I could not remember what happened during the rest of the meeting. All I remember was that when the meeting ended, I took the stairs to a restroom downstairs away from the main office space and locked myself into a bathroom stall and sobbed. I contemplated on calling my mom and asking for her guidance on what to do. I didn’t. I was afraid that she’d tell me to stay and fight. I was afraid that she’d tell me to do something I didn’t want to. I wiped off my tears and went back upstairs. He was right there in our collaboration area. He pulled me aside and warned me that he does not like it when girls like me are insubordinate and think they got here because of their brains. When he left, I was comforted by my colleagues but we all knew that there was nothing I could do to get justice.
Other female employees who were his seniors often discussed in private about his lewd comments and sexist behavior but no one was ever brave enough to complain to the senior management and HR because the management is known to ignore the complaints and many times punish the women by accidentally leaking the names of the women over private chat groups. Travis is well known to protect high performing team leaders no matter how abusive they are towards their employees. The HR team was known to be deftly afraid of Travis’s tendency to blame and ridicule the women and yell at HR whenever they went in with complaints of abuse. I heard about Travis personally congratulating Mike#2 for meeting strict deadlines months after I complained to HR about my abuse. It was clear to me that the regressive and abusive attitude towards female employees was trickling down from the top. After several months of this abuse and failed complaints to HR, I couldn’t stand it any longer. The animosity towards me got worse and in my performance reviews, it was noted that I was not a team player, not creative, directionless. There were days when I would come home from work and lie down in my bed till the alarm woke me up. I would cut my mom’s calls and reject meeting requests from friends. I would wonder why I went to grad school instead of wearing heels and marrying a rich guy so I would never have to work. It was then that I knew I had to stop this vicious environment from destroying my life. Within three days of my last performance review, I quit. I wore my New Balance sneakers to work, surrendered my employee tag, mobile phone and computer. I deleted the Uber app on my phone. Even though I don’t work at Uber any longer, the damage that was done to me by Uber’s work environment ruined my spirit. It damaged what was most precious to me : dignity and self respect. This abuse happened not because I didn’t wear heels or because I was directionless. It happened for the sole reason that I am a woman who told a man what she really thought.
My name is not Amy. I am an #ubersurvivor.