I am Susan Fowler
You already know her name. Her fearless recount of her year at Uber has led to the exit of its Broiest of Bro CEOs, multiple executive resignations, and the unraveling of Silicon Valley’s biggest pre-IPO darling. The tone of her blog is almost snarky. Heavy in substance, but light in tone. Pointed. Real. Jarringly relatable. If you are a woman working in “The Valley,” Susan Fowler is you. She is me.
I am Susan Fowler.
I am Susan Fowler except for one huge chasm of a distinction. I have never had the lady balls to publicly share my stories about gender bias or discrimination at work. Yes, I said “lady balls” in a sentence about gender bias. Perhaps big ovaries will someday be appropriate, but for now I will settle for the male version to make my point.
If you are a woman working in Silicon Valley (or really anywhere), you probably have a story about gender discrimination in the workplace. A story that you have kept to yourself. You have quietly accepted that your male colleagues are making more than you are. You’ve been interrupted more times than you’ve spoken. You’ve been accused of being too aggressive, argumentative or just talking too much. You’ve been asked to take notes, order the food, schedule the meeting simply because you are female, and guys just aren’t good at that stuff. You’ve been silent during inappropriate discussions about another colleague’s hotness, or worse, your own. You chalked it up to the price you had to pay to play in Silicon Valley.
Unlike Susan Fowler, most of us have stayed silent. We’ve chosen to be “one of the guys.” We did not dare report it to HR, fearing we’d lose that coveted seat at the table. We have left one company and joined another. We have laughed it off, or at least waited to cry in our cars on the way home.
If you think your company is not Uber, then have a look at these startling statistics and think again. While Uber was certainly the extreme of an unchecked bro-culture, the behavior that Susan Fowler describes in her blog is happening everywhere, and enough people know about it that they should be working harder to squash it. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick did not resign because the Board suddenly discovered their moral compass. He was forced out because his company lost significant value because of Fowler’s blog. Customers deleted the Uber app from their phones. Investors demanded change because Uber’s value dropped by multiple billions. That’s billions, plural — with a B.
I’ve read many backlash articles about Kalanick, saying that he is a visionary and a trailblazer and his accomplishments should still be celebrated. Without question, Kalanick disrupted an industry and sparked the share-economy. But saying Kalanick is a visionary on the day of his exit is like saying Bill Cosby is a great comedian on the day of his trial. Kalanick’s accomplishments, while impressive, should not excuse his indiscretions. After all, it was his vision that likely contributed to Uber’s board turning a blind-eye to his misbehavior for years.
So, what now? How do women seize the moment and make the most of Susan Fowler’s bravery?
It begins with a few things:
1. Awareness. We need to start talking about gender discrimination in the workplace. I’m not suggesting you run to HR every time you are interrupted, but let’s at least start by asking our colleagues to knock it off.
2. Buying Power. Women in the US control or influence 73% of all household spending. The percentage equates to over $8 trillion in spending — that is “trillion” with a “T.” Ladies, it is time to vote with our wallets. We need to hold companies accountable.
3. Zero Tolerance. Companies need to act when their executives behave badly.
4. Women Supporting Women. There is power in numbers, and ladies, we control HR. According to the 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics, 73% of HR managers are female. We need to provide women in the workplace a safe place to share sexual harassment issues, and a trusted partner to hold the business accountable without creating an environment that is completely hostile to women.
5. Lady Balls. I know. There it is again. We need to channel Fowler’s bravery and tell our own stories.
Susan Fowler had immense courage to publicly call out a Silicon Valley juggernaut. She opened a door, and now the rest of us need to walk through it. We need to vote with our wallets, support each other and demand zero tolerance in the workplace. After all, we are Susan Fowler.
Thank you for reading this article. If you liked it, please share it. Post it. Tweet it. Make origami with it and leave it around your office. While I certainly love a good “recommend” heart, spreading the word and encouraging women to tell their stories is the goal of this article. And if you are ready to share your own, please include the hashtag #IamSusanFowler.