Susan Fowler speaks after taking on Uber: ‘I wasn’t just standing up for myself’

In her first inteview since the explosive blog post that rocked the $70 billion company, Uber whistleblower Susan Fowler opened up over the weekend about why she did it.

In a nutshell: “I wasn’t going to take it,” she told The New York Times, eight months after publishing the post that kicked off a massive firestorm, ultimately leading to the ouster of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. But there was more to it than that.

“I wasn’t just standing up for myself,” she said. “I felt like I was standing up for everyone else that I was seeing at Uber who was mistreated. It was an extremely demoralizing environment. I would see people who would get harassed or made fun of or bullied and they would go report it, and they would just get ground down by upper management and H.R.  And so I felt like, if I can take this on despite the consequences, then I should do it.”

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Fowler, a former Uber engineer, told the world in February about the unchecked sexual harassment and sexism she says she experienced at the company. Her manager sent her messages about his “open relationship” with his wife, informing Fowler that he was looking for someone to have sex with, she wrote. And she claimed that when Uber bought black leather jackets for its engineers, the women were excluded from the purchase.

Those allegations led to others, coming both from media investigations and from the reports of other female employees. Uber started its own investigation, fired 20 employees, and, eventually kicked Kalanick out of office.

But who is the woman who lit the first fire that grew into an inferno and swept through the world’s most valuable startup?

Fowler was raised in a rural town in Arizona, the daughter of an evangelical preacher who sold payphones, according to The Times. She was homeschooled, largely educating herself by reading. She dreamed of going to college, but had no idea how to apply — she called up universities and was told she’d need an application.

Arizona State University gave her a full scholarship, and then she transferred from there to the University of Pennsylvania. She told The Times she had to fight to study physics, against the advice of her advisers.

Now 26-year-old Fowler is seven months pregnant, according to The Times, and is working with Verve on a movie based on her experiences. She wants Emma Stone to play her, and Ashton Kutcher to play Kalanick.

Fowler works for Stripe as editor of its tech publication, and says she’d never go back to Uber.

Fowler remains disappointed with the way Uber handled her blog post. After she published the post, she says her friends and family started getting calls from private investigators — an invasion she blames Uber for. Fowler says she complained to Uber board member Arianna Huffington, who denied Uber’s involvement.

Earlier this month, Uber HR head Liane Hornsey provoked more criticism by suggesting she hadn’t met with Fowler about the blog post, and didn’t plan to, telling The Wall Street Journal: “I don’t know whether there would be any benefit in meeting her. I’m seriously working for my employees today; she’s an ex-employee.”

“oooh burn,” Fowler tweeted in response.

 

This post has been corrected to include the proper attribution for the quote: “I don’t know whether there would be any benefit in meeting her. I’m seriously working for my employees today; she’s an ex-employee.”

Photo: This Wednesday, June 21, 2017, file photo shows the building that houses the headquarters of Uber, in San Francisco. (Eric Risberg/AP)

 

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