Leaked Uber email reveals how a female engineer pleaded with executives for change

Source: Gene J. Puskar/AP

Ride-sharing giant Uber is reeling from a mass exodus of leaders — including CEO Travis Kalanick — following a series of scandals and an investigation into the company's internal work culture, resulting in at least 20 employees fired.

Mic has obtained documents that illustrate that months earlier, female Uber engineers were emailing Kalanick, board member Arianna Huffington, chief of HR Liane Hornsey, CTO Thuan Pham and a number of other executives — as well as the company's internal email list for female engineers — to plea for change.

Several internal emails show female Uber engineers made leadership aware of issues women were facing at the company in response to an explosive blog post from Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, that went viral and exposed harassment and discrimination at the company.

These emails were sent at the end of February, following Fowler's blog post and ahead of the release of the findings of Eric Holder, Covington & Burling and Perkins Coie's investigations into Uber's workplace culture.

Below are excerpts from one of the emails, written by a current female Uber engineer. It was titled, in part, "Just Another Hispanic Female Speaking Out."

"I've felt like I am part of a sexist toxic work environment," she wrote. "No matter how hard I try to fit in or how hard I work, I am never going to be a male or white individual in tech, let alone feel like I belong."

Two Uber employees independently confirmed receiving her email. Excerpts of that email are below.

"I've kept telling myself it's going to get better."

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"Sadly, as all of this has happened, I have also started forming my own story of being an engineer at Uber. I’ve kept telling myself it’s going to get better, 'things will get better when we have a head of diversity, things will get better when the ERGs have more budget, OKRs and assigned people to them, things will get better once I transfer teams.' It’s been now 11 months at the company and I still question it daily."

Context: A current female Uber engineer, who spoke to Mic under the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that the people involved in Fowler's situation were still at the company after Uber's firing of 20 people.

According to her, the problem is that the director of engineering for infrastructure, and the CTO, Pham, "covered up Susan's claims." She questioned why they were still at the company. "Until those two people get changed, I don't see the change," she added. "It's very hard to trust in it."

An Uber spokesperson said in an email that Fowler's manager was terminated after Fowler's complaints.

"Male engineers were getting the same level of promotions for less work/impact."

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"... the sexist and tech 'bro' culture was strong at Uber," the email said. "I saw it with more females getting passed up for promotions while male engineers in the same organizations were getting the same level of promotions for less work/impact, I saw it with as managers promoted people of their own ethnicity over equally/more qualified people that weren't their ‘buddies,’ I saw it as females technical comments/advice was taken for granted or repeated without given credit. The minorities were always forsaken."

Context: Another current female Uber engineer, also speaking under the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said the female engineer chatroom — called LadyEng — has for years been used by women at the company to bring up grievances and complaints. The email listserv for LadyEng has over 500 subscribers.

"Sexual comments … got shared around the office during/after hours," she added in the email.

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"I saw it happen over and over again in different parts on engineering, I kept on hoping things will get better, but we are still here," the email said. "This does not even begin to mention the sexual comments that got shared around the office during/after hours, towards me and/or other females or just in general. Of course, a lot of these comments got made while people were under the influence and it becomes more of a blurred line on how/when you can call them out and no paper trail of them."

"Speaking out is hard, specially in cases like sexism and sexual harassment. Specially given the current history of our HR system … How will this get better? Anonymous 24/7 hotline doesn’t necessarily fix this. Specially when it’s known that our anonymous cultural value surveys get shared with our respective managers."

"Someone in the All Hands mentioned putting a line to the past, we can’t do that. We can’t let the precious stories that have happened at our company go."

She asked, "Why should we continue hoping our culture will get better?"

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"We continue saying that we wish we would have done things different after the media wrecks us … but this is not the first time that we’ve been classified as a sexist workplace, we clearly never got the message the first few incidents," the email said. "Why should we continue hoping our culture will get better? What commitments can we get from upper management's publicly that hold the entire company accountable?"

A spokesperson for Huffington had no comment. Uber provided the following statement:

"We have taken strong actions to address claims of harassment, discrimination and other inappropriate behavior, and have established processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. We're focused on rebuilding trust with our employees and the communities we serve, and building a company and culture that we can be proud of."


June 23, 2017, 10:30 a.m.: This story has been updated.