But, then, your manager seems interested in you, and it soon takes the form of sexual overtures. You politely say that you are not interested, but the overtures continue and affect your comfort in your workplace. You finally work up the confidence to report your concerns to management, and you learn this is not the first time this manager has crossed the line. You are told your manager is a high performer and valuable to the organization. You are encouraged to “not worry about it, let it go.” Or, you could – if you insist – transfer to a new department. Now, you fear for your own job.
This is the predicament in which former Uber engineer Susan Fowler found herself. After she was met with indifference by Uber’s HR department and received a blame-the-victim response, she detailed her year of harassment in a blog post published last month. In Fowler’s words, she was “overcome with thankfulness” for her time at Uber, attempting to find the positives in her experience — and she found plenty of supporters. Fowler was a victim of sexual harassment; and she wrote about it.
Her blog post went viral; members of Uber’s board of directors wrote scathing rebukes to Uber management; and CEO Travis Kalanick took notice and appointed a former U.S. attorney general to review the predicament. Uber’s president, Jeff Jones, has since left Uber, citing “incompatible values.”
We wish we could say that workplace sexual harassment has diminished over the years, but it has not. According to the New York Times, few in Silicon Valley were surprised by Fowler’s revelations, stating that “even in cases where abuse is well documented … the men responsible are rarely punished, and the overall picture rarely improves.” In a Silicon Valley study, 84% of Silicon Valley female employees had been told they were too aggressive (read what we term the “Goldilocks Dilemma”), and 66% felt excluded from key social/networking opportunities because they are women. In 75% of job interviews, women in Silicon Valley were asked about family life, marital status, and children. Not surprisingly, more than half of the women in the study who took maternity leave took shorter leaves than available, due to concerns it would hurt their careers. And in our own survey, 6% reported overt sexual harassment in the workplace.
A 2016 EEOC study further illustrated the grim statistics. Across the U.S., three out of four sexual harassment victims still don’t tell their superiors about harassment. They fear disbelief, inaction on their claim, blame, and even social and professional retaliation.
In nearly every respect, sexual harassment is as alive and well in the U.S. as it was 50 years ago, when Title VII made sexual harassment illegal. The U.S. now ranks 45th in the world in gender equity, and it is falling, rather than gaining.
We recently celebrated International Women’s Day, yet it was met with controversy. On April 4th, we recognize Equal Pay Day, in which (white) women catch up with the average pay equally qualified men received by December 31st. (Minorities’ Equal Pay Days follow even later in the year.) We haven’t advanced in pay equality either. Twenty years ago, we celebrated Equal Pay Day on April 3rd.
In a moment of lightness, one of our favorite signs from the women’s marches following inauguration day was an 85 year old woman carrying a sign saying “I can’t believe I’m still doing this sh^t”.
Concerned women and men must speak up together. We must support each other, and we must keep the focus on the lack of progress. We, as authors in the space of women’s equality, do not have a magic bullet to provide gender equity, but the ray of light is that we all have our platforms and voices like never before. What Susan Fowler did took courage and we hope it pays off. We are now aware of what happened to her at Uber, and we are talking about it. We will keep talking about sexual harassment and encourage you to keep talking with us, until none of us has to carry that sign.