Uber’s sexism crisis deepens

Top Uber exec Amit Singhal has been sacked. Picture: Jeff Chiu

A TOP engineering executive at ride-sharing giant Uber, Amit Singhal, is out five weeks after his hire was announced.

According to a report in the tech blog Recode, Mr Singhal failed to disclose that he’d left his previous job at Google because of a sexual harassment allegation.

Mr Singhal denied the allegation and said he left Google a year ago for his own reasons. “Harassment is unacceptable in any setting,” he said in a statement emailed to the Associated Press.

“I certainly want everyone to know that I do not condone and have not committed such behaviour. In my 20-year career, I’ve never been accused of anything like this before and the decision to leave Google was my own.”

According to Recode, Singhal left Google after executives there informed him of a harassment allegation lodged by an employee, one an internal investigation had found “credible”. Citing unnamed sources at Uber, Recode said the company did “extensive background checks of Singhal” but did not uncover “any hint of the circumstances of his departure from Google”.

Representatives for Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. Uber declined to comment beyond confirming that Singhal was no longer with the company.

The dust-up is just the latest sign of turmoil at Uber, which last week found itself in an unrelated sexual harassment firestorm.

That stemmed from a detailed essay published by a former female Uber engineer, who charged that her prospects at the company evaporated after she complained about sexual advances from her boss.

In the post about her year at Uber, Susan Fowler said the company’s human resources department ignored her complaints because her boss was a high performer.

She detailed how on her very first day her new manager sent her suggestive messages via the company chat telling her that he was in an open relationship but, unlike his partner, was having trouble finding other sexual partners.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Picture: Money Sharma/AFP

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Picture: Money Sharma/AFPSource:AFP

Uber HQ in California. Picture: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

Uber HQ in California. Picture: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFPSource:AFP

“He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with,” Ms Fowler wrote.

“It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

“When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offence, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning.”

Ms Fowler wrote that she soon found out she wasn’t alone. “Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company,” she wrote.

“As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company.

“It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being ‘his first offence’, and it certainly wasn’t his last.”

Following the publication of Ms Fowler’s blog, other former employees began to speak out. One journalist, writing for LinkedIn, said nearly a dozen former software engineers told similar stories of Uber’s “frat-like” culture.

One told of being ridiculed after suggesting a T-shirt featuring a nude woman worn by a fellow engineer might be inappropriate, while another said engineers “talked openly with their managers at lunch about their latest sexual escapade or drunk adventure”.

“I really wanted to believe that my experience was an exception, and that I failed at Uber because I deserved to fail, not because of factors beyond my control,” one former engineer told LinkedIn. “Every time I hear a story like [Fowler’s] … I realise that this was the norm.”

Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick has called for an independent investigation of those issues, and the company has hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder to help.

About author