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Is Snapchat's Culture As Sexist and Toxic As Uber's?

Debbie Madden
May 30, 2018

There is a bottom line when it comes to what’s acceptable in the workplace and Snap crossed it.

Yesterday, an email written by a former Snap female developer, Shannon Lubetich, emerged. The email was written back in November, on Lubetich’s last day of work. In it, she accused Snap, the makers of Snapchat, of having a toxic and sexist culture.

It’s not clear if Snap’s culture is as sexist and toxic as Uber’s, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is how Snap resolves the issue. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said to the Los Angeles Times “With a younger workforce people are going to make mistakes.”

No. No. No.

Younger employees can be forgiven for making the types of mistakes like pushing code to production with a bug in it. But, it’s not ok to just brush this off and say “Oh gee whiz, boys will be boys,” which is essentially what Spiegel is saying. It’s Spiegel’s responsibility to model the way for his young employees, to define what good looks like, and to set expectations as to what unacceptable looks like. This is not a millenials problem. This is a leadership problem.

So, exactly how bad is Snap’s culture?

Is Snap’s culture as sexist and toxic as Uber’s? In March of 2017, Uber was in the hot seat in an almost identical way — a female developer at Uber, Susan Fowler, accused the company of having a toxic and sexist culture. In the months that followed, Uber fired their then CEO and founder Travis Kalanick, and attempted to uproot and revamp it’s entire culture.

Uber’s culture was as sexist and toxic as I’ve seen in my career. For example, one engineering manager sent chat messages in an attempt to get female engineers to have sex with him. HR decided to let the behaviour go unpunished.

So, is Snap culture as poor as Uber? And, does it matter? Are all toxic and sexist offenses equally shitty or are there shades of grey?

Here’s some of what we know about Snap’s culture and workplace:

  1. Scantily clad women were hired for company parties
  2. Snap’s former senior vice president of engineering, Tim Sehn, made sexual jokes on at least one, and possibly multiple, occasions
  3. Male developers described Snap’s culture as male-dominated turf wars

Snap’s culture may not be as toxic as Uber’s, but it doesn’t matter. It’s broken and must be fixed. Here’s how:

A Plan For Snap To Redeem Themselves

If I were the CEO of Snap, here’s what I’d do.

Step 1: Listen To Employees

Snap has already sent out one survey to employees. This is a good start. The survey must be anonymous, in order to give individuals the safety to respond honestly. Once the survey results are in, they must be shared with all. Transparency is key.

Step 2: Adopt a zero-tolerance harassment policy and fire offenders
Make Snap a safe place to work. Do this by getting rid of the bad eggs:

  • Write up a Zero-Tolerance Harassment Policy and add it to your Employee Handbook.
  • Swiftly deal with each harassment case one by one. Every single incident of harassment that gets brought up with HR needs to be a top priority. Each incident must be investigated the day it is revealed. Not over time, not next week. Today.
  • Upon confirming harassment, the individual who conducted the harassment must be fired immediately. Not next week. Today.

Confirming harassment can be complex. Sometimes you can find hard evidence like an email, video or a witness. Sometimes hard evidence doesn’t exist and a thorough investigation is warranted. Regardless, you must find out the truth and get to the bottom of each incident.

Step 3: Hire a strong head of HR and an employment lawyer and educate employees
Your employees are confused. Some might be scared. Snap needs to become a place where everyone feels safe. Where everyone feels equal. Hire a strong head of HR and an employment lawyer. Educate employees and investigate harassment cases inside the company. Above all, treat all employees equally, regardless of their rank or influence inside Snap.

Step 4 : Make your commitment to diversity and inclusion transparent 
Write a letter to your employees, and allow it to be visible to the entire world to see. This doesn't have to be complex. Last year I wrote a simple statement, from the heart. Find your voice and share thoughts on a commitment that you can stick to. 

Is this enough? No. But it’s a start.

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