Sexual harassment and sexism are well known problems in the US tech sector, as a survey of Silicon Valley women found last year, but a series of recent allegations involving three major companies has thrust those problems into the spotlight and is forcing the industry and the public to confront what last year’s survey called “the elephant in the Valley.”
After former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post last Sunday about her experience at the company, alleging a pattern of sexual harassment, HR misconduct, and management retaliation, the ridesharing startup launched an internal investigation and is hearing strong criticism from investors and employees. Uber’s critics are urging an overhaul of what they describe as a toxic and self-destructive culture that enables sexual harassment and misconduct toward women.
In a development that could compound the scandal, Recode’s Kara Swisher broke the news on Monday that Uber’s SVP of engineering, Amit Singhal, had been asked to resign after she reported that he had not disclosed to Uber that he had left Google last year amidst “credible” allegations of sexual harassment from an employee. Sources at Uber told Swisher that they had done extensive background checks on Singhal but uncovered nothing related to the allegations at Google (which Singhal still denies). Swisher also couldn’t find any outward indication that anything was amiss for Singhal at Google at the time, even though the company was, according to her sources, “prepared to fire Singhal over the allegations after looking into the incident,” but such action was preempted by Singhal’s decision to resign:
Sources said the female employee who filed the formal complaint against Singhal did not work for him directly, but worked closely with the search team. She also did not want to go public with the charges, which is apparently why Google decided to allow Singhal to leave quietly. He was also a well-regarded executive there, who was well liked by many I have spoken to at Google. He rose to a top job as SVP of search and has had a distinguished career as a technologist in Silicon Valley. …
You could not tell that there were any problems, though, from the outward behavior of both sides [at the time of Singhal’s departure]. When Singhal left, said sources, Google settled major outstanding grants he had, and his own goodbye letter read more like a retirement missive. More to the point, it gave no hint of acrimony between himself and his longtime employer.
Both Uber and Google are facing a backlash over these revelations: the former for hiring Singhal without uncovering what led to his departure from his last job, and the latter for allowing him to leave the company inconspicuously. On Twitter, ex-Googler Kelly Ellis, who allegedly witnessed and experienced sexual harassment while working there several years ago, took to Twitter to highlight how the “boy’s club” of tech executives hurts leadership diversity and makes it easier for male tech execs to get away with serial sexual harassment. Among her complaints related to this latest example: that tech executives often hire their friends outside of the usual hiring process, and after already lacking the necessary diversity to pick up on risks of misconduct.