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To Uber: Many in Tech Have Gotten Harassment Against Women in the Workplace Right for Decades

Debbie Madden
Mar 01, 2017
I am a huge fan of the New York Times, but today’s article, “Uber Case Could Be A Watershed for Women in Tech,” really pissed me off.

Yes, it is absolutely true that many forms of harassment against women in the workplace have been going on forever, and yes it is true that sometimes, the individuals responsible for said harassment go unpunished. And it is also true that there are many bro-grammer cultures that can’t seem to figure out how to treat all employees fair and equally.

But, the New York Times article quotes Freada Kapor Klein, a partner at the venture capital firm Kapor Capital and an Uber investor. Ms. Kapor Klein states that an Uber employee asked her, in regards to harassment of women in the workplace, ‘Has anyone gotten it right in tech?’” and her response was “not yet. And that means an opportunity for Uber.”

Bullshit. Absolute and utter bullshit.

Absolutely, positively companies have gotten this right in tech. How do I know? I know because I run a tech company in NYC, and have run tech companies for 22 years. The company I run is an Agile software development consultancy. What this means is that we have the privilege of embedding engineers with tech teams across NYC. We literally have our engineers code alongside development teams for months, sometimes years. Me and my team know tens of thousands of CEOs, CTOs and developers. And, we know them intimately, because we show up to work alongside them, five days per week, at their office. We immerse ourselves in their culture. We go to lunch with them. We become part of their team. We help them with recruiting. We see everything. We see the good the bad and the ugly.

And, I can say with absolute confidence that many of us in tech have been getting ‘women in the workplace’ right for decades.

We’ve done it quietly, without fanfare, without notice. We’ve done it because it’s the right thing to do.

So, Ms. Kapor Klein and Uber - wake up and take a lesson from those that have got this figured out. Don’t act all high and mighty and pretend that this is some great mystery that you are trail blazing. It’s not.

I appreciate that Ms. Kapor Klein is holding Uber accountable. She’s asked for a public report of internal findings, new hiring policies and harassment training.

But, this isn’t a mystery. The article is wrong to state “it could take years of careful and publicly embarrassing actions for Uber and other companies to become more hospitable to women.”

Come on now. Years? Here’s an idea: adopt a zero tolerance policy for harassment. Do this today, and hold people accountable for their actions. For all of the Uber employees who have done wrong - fire them immediately. Yes, Uber must investigate and confirm each allegation. But, that doesn’t take years, it takes days. Once confirmed, fire immediately.

My guess, and this only speculation, is that tech teams like Uber’s who have a bro-grammer culture, will find it laborious to become a fully hospitable environment for women, because it will mean firing some of their ‘rock star’ programmers, and this may impact their bottom line. People who commit harassment and are not being fired are likely high performers technically. They are therefore likely contributing significantly to tech teams’ software platforms. Without those people, tech teams could miss deadlines which could mean lost revenue.

If Uber and others truly want to fix this problem, here’s how to do it now -

Adopt Zero Tolerance Harassment Policy

  1. Each 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.

  2. Upon confirming harassment, the individual who conducted the harassment must be fired immediately. Not next week. Today.

  3. Write up your Zero Tolerance Harassment Policy and add it to your Employee Handbook.

Stride’s Zero Tolerance Harassment Policy is - If at any time, any Strider, man or woman, feels you are being harassed by any other Strider, or by any of our client employees, you are responsible for escalating the situation. Upon learning about the incident, Stride will investigate that same day. If we confirm that another Strider has committed harassment, we will fire that individual on the spot. If we learn that one of our client’s employees has committed the harassment, we will immediately inform a senior executive at our client and will jointly investigate alongside them. We strongly recommend our client fires the individual, and we require that our client removes the individual from any interaction with our team. If the client does not comply, we will fire the client.

For those of you that are truly committed to this, this is something that you can do now. It won’t take years. You might wind up firing some of your ‘rock stars’ but you have to be ok with that. Just because someone can write amazing code, it doesn’t give this person carte blanche to harass others.

Educate Employees

If you don’t have an employment lawyer, get one. Stride holds harassment training for our managers, and has our employment lawyer talk with all employees.

Again, this can be done quickly. An employment lawyer can do a 1 hour training for managers, and a 1 hour address to the entire company. You can also have more lengthy deep dives with some folks, but this is a case where getting the basics across quickly is much more beneficial than waiting until you craft a one-of-a-kind lengthy training.

Change your recruiting practices

Once you get rid of any existing harassment offenders, it’s time to revamp your recruiting practices to be gender balanced. There are three simple things you can do relatively quickly that will have a significant impact:

  1. Re-write your job postings and your Careers page on your website. A 2013 study published in the American Psychological Association by the authors Gaucher, Friesen, & Kay called, “Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality, ” concluded that certain masculine-themed words impacted the percentage of women that applied for jobs. By changing a few keywords, you can attract a more balanced and diverse applicant pool. Words like ninja, dominant, leader, aggressive, ambitious are masculine, and dissuade women from applying.

  2. Change your interview process to have as many ‘blind’ parts as possible. The Guardian wrote a great article entitled “How blind auditions help orchestras to eliminate gender bias.” In the 1980s, orchestras starting auditioning men and women behind a curtain, without shoes on. This meant that all that could be heard was their music, not the sound of their shoes walking onto stage (high heels reveal it was a woman), and not their looks. They found that even when blind auditions were used only in the preliminary round, it made it 50% more likely that women would advance to the final rounds. Have at least 1 blind part of your interview process. At Stride, our code test grading is blind. Applicants send in a code sample. We send the code to be reviewed without any reference to who wrote the code.

  3. Change how you give offers. When you give candidates a job offer, walk them through your Zero Tolerance Harassment Policy. Do this for all candidates, both for men and women.

Listen, I get it. Changing behaviour of large tech companies requires commitment and effort. But, I’m begging you, for anyone reading this that knows your team struggles with workplace harassment - make that commitment. Make it today, and hold yourself accountable. If you need help, I will happily personally hold you accountable. I’m sure I’m not alone.

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