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07 Mar

Women in Tech – Sexist work culture in Uber and other startups

Uber as a business model is presented as a case worth studying, in practically all forums be it how a technology-based business is disrupting the dynamics of traditional business models, or how to make profits without any owning assets or how the youth in the world are thinking out of the box of creating innovative business models.  No cars owned, aggregating services of the third party, VC’s vying to have their share,  idea which is the envy of every brick & mortar business.

Uber is making headlines for a different reason now – women in technology. While the entire world is busy brainstorming ways to attract, retain, develop and promote women in tech, Uber was busy ignoring/dismissing the reports of any wrongdoing by male high performers.

The blog post by Susan Fowler which was read the world over, followed by a blog by #ubersurvivor brings forth to the world the highly sexist work culture that start-up organizations may be supporting by choice or by sheer ignorance. The firing of Amit Singhal five weeks after he joined, is it an attempt to divert the attention of the world, from the real issue.

What remains now, is to understand is Uber an exception or a norm in the start-up eco-system. Are the start-ups too busy ensuring an increase in valuation and choosing to ignore the termite mounds growing within?

Sexual harassment of any kind is a gross violation of human rights. It directly attacks human dignity and damages self-respect. The loss of productivity, damage to both physical and mental health of the victim and the eye-witnesses will add up to much larger impact.

Why do women choose not to report such cases? The spotlight and the scrutiny that the victim anticipates, the victim-blaming which follows, and the social stigma that comes in as a bonus are few reasons what discourages a woman to report. When the lady is bold enough to report, the report is dismissed as in the case of Susan Fowler and the #ubersurvivor. The male perpetrator, who enjoys the position of power also has the power to retaliate by sabotaging the performance appraisal/growth of the victim. Not to mention the immediate weapon in his hand of creating a hostile work environment for the lady and denouncing the lady as a problem employee.

With the growing social-media culture, can organizations really afford to ignore cases like these? What is the long-term impact this is going to have? As many others Are the headline for only a day-or-so before disappearing into oblivion or will it create the unwarranted long-term damage to the image of the organization?

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act 2013 in India, addresses the issue, where organizations are to have their internal complaint committees to handle these cases. Despite the law, the implementation leaves much to be desired. Until then we’re still talking about [and not doing much] in recruiting, retaining, developing and promoting women in the workforce specifically in technology.

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