The Post That Blew Up the Internet

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On Sunday, Susan Fowler posted an article Reflecting on One Very Strange Year at Uber, that proceeded to blow up in succession, twitter, then regular news feeds, then the IT world as a whole.

Uber quickly responded by saying they would take the allegations seriously and look into it, even going so far as to hire a former US Attorney General to look into matter.

Since then, there have been a lot of articles detailing the numbers of women who have been faced with sexual harrassment (ranging from 60-75%), and those who have been party to demeaning comments, a staggering 87%.

The question remains though, why has this post gotten more response than any other? There have been others that have come out about their experience with sexism and sexual harassment, from big name companies like GitHub, Squarespace, Tinder, Reddit, and Google.

While other complaints have been sloughed off as one-offs or exaggerations, it’s impossible to ignore Susan Fowler’s assertions simply because of the breadth of documentation she amassed. She kept written forms and screenshots of conversations with HR. She had physical evidence of what was going on, and how such behavior was constantly being shifted around and/or ignored.

Coupled with that is Susan’s willingness to continue going to HR (or even go to HR in the first place). Most cases do not even get as far as HR, they stop with a manager if they even get reported. Because she had formally engaged the organization in filing her complaints, it put the company under a greater obligation to investigate. Keep in mind that HR exists in companies to protect the employER, so their lack of due diligence by these claims + documentation of their wanton disregard of her claims make them more open to lawsuits.

Finally, Susan’s blog post was relatively neutral in tone. Her tone was measured, and while there was frustration, it was not overly emotional. Susan chose to emphasize ethos in her article, with logos being her secondary reliance. By focusing on ethos, she builds her credibility, and makes her statements more difficult to dismiss. Logos works well with ethos because it combines facts with credibility. To recap on these high school/Ancient Greek methods of persuasion, please go here.

One reason Susan Fowler’s accusation went viral is because she’s relatively well-known. She has a book out on MicroServices (I bought it, it looks good!), and she is extremely connected socially in the tech world; she has 20,000 followers on twitter. It was precisely because of her regard within the field, that her blog garnered so much attention from the outset.

So what can you do in your situation?

I urge you to follow Susan’s example, and make sure to go to HR, documenting everything that happens during those interactions. Also make sure that you remain as calm and measured as you can when mentioning issues you have to anybody else at work in a position of authority. I understand that can be difficult, but it can help from being dismissed out of turn as “overly emotional”. Finally, don’t stand for being harassed or belittled. 40% of all incidents don’t get reported for fear of reprisal. But without reporting a problem, how can there be an evidence (legally and otherwise) that there is one?

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