Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber

Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber

Postby admin » Mon Oct 23, 2017 9:00 pm

Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber
by Susan J. Fowler
February 19, 2017

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As most of you know, I left Uber in December and joined Stripe in January. I've gotten a lot of questions over the past couple of months about why I left and what my time at Uber was like. It's a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go.

I joined Uber as a site reliability engineer (SRE) back in November 2015, and it was a great time to join as an engineer. They were still wrangling microservices out of their monolithic API, and things were just chaotic enough that there was exciting reliability work to be done. The SRE team was still pretty new when I joined, and I had the rare opportunity to choose whichever team was working on something that I wanted to be part of.

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn't. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn't help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on - unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man's first offense, and that they wouldn't feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he "was a high performer" (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn't feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

I was then told that I had to make a choice: (i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that. I remarked that this didn't seem like much of a choice,
and that I wanted to stay on the team because I had significant expertise in the exact project that the team was struggling to complete (it was genuinely in the company's best interest to have me on that team), but they told me the same thing again and again. One HR rep even explicitly told me that it wouldn't be retaliation if I received a negative review later because I had been "given an option". I tried to escalate the situation but got nowhere with either HR or with my own management chain (who continued to insist that they had given him a stern-talking to and didn't want to ruin his career over his "first offense").

So I left that team, and took quite a few weeks learning about other teams before landing anywhere (I desperately wanted to not have to interact with HR ever again). I ended up joining a brand-new SRE team that gave me a lot of autonomy, and I found ways to be happy and do amazing work. In fact, the work I did on this team turned into the production-readiness process which I wrote about in my bestselling (!!!) book Production-Ready Microservices.

Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company. As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company. It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being "his first offense", and it certainly wasn't his last. Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his "first offense". The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.

Myself and a few of the women who had reported him in the past decided to all schedule meetings with HR to insist that something be done. In my meeting, the rep I spoke with told me that he had never been reported before, he had only ever committed one offense (in his chats with me), and that none of the other women who they met with had anything bad to say about him, so no further action could or would be taken. It was such a blatant lie that there was really nothing I could do. There was nothing any of us could do. We all gave up on Uber HR and our managers after that.
Eventually he "left" the company. I don't know what he did that finally convinced them to fire him.

In the background, there was a game-of-thrones political war raging within the ranks of upper management in the infrastructure engineering organization. It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor's job. No attempts were made by these managers to hide what they were doing: they boasted about it in meetings, told their direct reports about it, and the like. I remember countless meetings with my managers and skip-levels where I would sit there, not saying anything, and the manager would be boasting about finding favor with their skip-level and that I should expect them to have their manager's job within a quarter or two. I also remember a very disturbing team meeting in which one of the directors boasted to our team that he had withheld business-critical information from one of the executives so that he could curry favor with one of the other executives (and, he told us with a smile on his face, it worked!).

The ramifications of these political games were significant: projects were abandoned left and right, OKRs were changed multiple times each quarter, nobody knew what our organizational priorities would be one day to the next, and very little ever got done. We all lived under fear that our teams would be dissolved, there would be another re-org, and we'd have to start on yet another new project with an impossible deadline. It was an organization in complete, unrelenting chaos.


I was lucky enough during all of this to work with some of the most amazing engineers in the Bay Area. We kept our heads down and did good (sometimes great) work despite the chaos. We loved our work, we loved the engineering challenges, we loved making this crazy Uber machine work, and together we found ways to make it through the re-orgs and the changing OKRs and the abandoned projects and the impossible deadlines. We kept each other sane, kept the gigantic Uber ecosystem running, and told ourselves that it would eventually get better.

Things didn't get better, and engineers began transferring to the less chaotic engineering organizations. Once I had finished up my projects and saw that things weren't going to change, I also requested a transfer. I met all of the qualifications for transferring - I had managers who wanted me on their teams, and I had a perfect performance score - so I didn't see how anything could go wrong. And then my transfer was blocked.

According to my manager, his manager, and the director, my transfer was being blocked because I had undocumented performance problems. I pointed out that I had a perfect performance score, and that there had never been any complaints about my performance. I had completed all OKRs on schedule, never missed a deadline even in the insane organizational chaos, and that I had managers waiting for me to join their team. I asked what my performance problem was, and they didn't give me an answer. At first they said I wasn't being technical enough, so I pointed out that they were the ones who had given me my OKRs, and if they wanted to see different work from me then they should give me the kind of work they wanted to see - they then backed down and stopped saying that this was the problem. I kept pushing, until finally I was told that "performance problems aren't always something that has to do with work, but sometimes can be about things outside of work or your personal life." I couldn't decipher that, so I gave up and decided to stay until my next performance review.

Performance review season came around, and I received a great review with no complaints whatsoever about my performance. I waited a couple of months, and then attempted to transfer again. When I attempted to transfer, I was told that my performance review and score had been changed after the official reviews had been calibrated, and so I was no longer eligible for transfer. When I asked management why my review had been changed after the fact (and why hadn't they let me know that they'd changed it?), they said that I didn't show any signs of an upward career trajectory. I pointed out that I was publishing a book with O'Reilly, speaking at major tech conferences, and doing all of the things that you're supposed to do to have an "upward career trajectory", but they said it didn't matter and I needed to prove myself as an engineer. I was stuck where I was.

I asked them to change my performance review back. My manager said that the new negative review I was given had no real-world consequences, so I shouldn't worry about it. But I went home and cried that day, because even aside from impacts to my salary and bonuses, it did have real-world consequences - significant consequences that my management chain was very well aware of. I was enrolled in a Stanford CS graduate program, sponsored by Uber, and Uber only sponsored employees who had high performance scores. Under both of my official performance reviews and scores, I qualified for the program, but after this sneaky new negative score I was no longer eligible.

It turned out that keeping me on the team made my manager look good, and I overheard him boasting to the rest of the team that even though the rest of the teams were losing their women engineers left and right, he still had some on his team.


When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another eng organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%. Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn't transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization. When I asked our director at an org all-hands about what was being done about the dwindling numbers of women in the org compared to the rest of the company, his reply was, in a nutshell, that the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers.

Things were beginning to get even more comically absurd with each passing day. Every time something ridiculous happened, every time a sexist email was sent, I'd sent a short report to HR just to keep a record going. Things came to a head with one particular email chain from the director of our engineering organization concerning leather jackets that had been ordered for all of the SREs. See, earlier in the year, the organization had promised leather jackets for everyone in organization, and had taken all of our sizes; we all tried them on and found our sizes, and placed our orders. One day, all of the women (there were, I believe, six of us left in the org) received an email saying that no leather jackets were being ordered for the women because there were not enough women in the organization to justify placing an order. I replied and said that I was sure Uber SRE could find room in their budget to buy leather jackets for the, what, six women if it could afford to buy them for over a hundred and twenty men. The director replied back, saying that if we women really wanted equality, then we should realize we were getting equality by not getting the leather jackets. He said that because there were so many men in the org, they had gotten a significant discount on the men's jackets but not on the women's jackets, and it wouldn't be equal or fair, he argued, to give the women leather jackets that cost a little more than the men's jackets. We were told that if we wanted leather jackets, we women needed to find jackets that were the same price as the bulk-order price of the men's jackets.

I forwarded this absurd chain of emails to HR, and they requested to meet with me shortly after. I don't know what I expected after all of my earlier encounters with them, but this one was more ridiculous than I could have ever imagined. The HR rep began the meeting by asking me if I had noticed that *I* was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem. I pointed out that everything I had reported came with extensive documentation and I clearly wasn't the instigator (or even a main character) in the majority of them - she countered by saying that there was absolutely no record in HR of any of the incidents I was claiming I had reported (which, of course, was a lie, and I reminded her I had email and chat records to prove it was a lie). She then asked me if women engineers at Uber were friends and talked a lot, and then asked me how often we communicated, what we talked about, what email addresses we used to communicate, which chat rooms we frequented, etc. - an absurd and insulting request that I refused to comply with. When I pointed out how few women were in SRE, she recounted with a story about how sometimes certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others, so I shouldn't be surprised by the gender ratios in engineering. Our meeting ended with her berating me about keeping email records of things, and told me it was unprofessional to report things via email to HR.

Less than a week after this absurd meeting, my manager scheduled a 1:1 with me, and told me we needed to have a difficult conversation. He told me I was on very thin ice for reporting his manager to HR. California is an at-will employment state, he said, which means we can fire you if you ever do this again. I told him that was illegal, and he replied that he had been a manager for a long time, he knew what was illegal, and threatening to fire me for reporting things to HR was not illegal. I reported his threat immediately after the meeting to both HR and to the CTO: they both admitted that this was illegal, but none of them did anything. (I was told much later that they didn't do anything because the manager who threatened me "was a high performer").


I had a new job offer in my hands less than a week later.

On my last day at Uber, I calculated the percentage of women who were still in the org. Out of over 150 engineers in the SRE teams, only 3% were women.

When I look back at the time I spent at Uber, I'm overcome with thankfulness that I had the opportunity to work with some of the best engineers around. I'm proud of the work I did, I'm proud of the impact that I was able to make on the entire organization, and I'm proud that the work I did and wrote a book about has been adopted by other tech companies all over the world. And when I think about the things I've recounted in the paragraphs above, I feel a lot of sadness, but I can't help but laugh at how ridiculous everything was. Such a strange experience. Such a strange year.

Note: I am temporarily disabling comments because there are too many for me to keep up with!
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Re: Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber

Postby admin » Mon Oct 23, 2017 9:08 pm

Uber’s Whistle-Blower Is Developing a Movie and Having a Baby
by stationfinder.it
21 October 2017

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Image

No doubt when Mr. Kalanick met the wide-eyed Ms. Fowler at the office Christmas party soon after she started, it never entered his head that she would become the disciplinarian who effectively confiscated his car keys for reckless driving with one blog post.

Yet it was a role that Ms. Fowler had been preparing for her whole life. The Peter Pan libertines met their match in a sweet Stoic.

She had what she calls an “unconventional upbringing,” the second child of seven in a small town in rural Arizona called Yarnell. Her father was an evangelical Assemblies of God preacher who sold pay phones on weekdays and, with his wife, home-schooled Susan and her siblings. She ended up never going to high school.

“So I was kind of on my own,” she says. “I tried to read the classics, would go to the library a lot, tried to teach myself things. But didn’t really have any direction. I really had this dream that someday I could be educated.”

She read Plutarch’s “Lives.” “The Stoics were really what changed me,” she says. “Because their whole thing was about, ‘You don’t have control over a lot of the things that determine your life, so all you can do is focus on becoming the best person that you can be.’ And that really spoke to me because I did feel, especially during my teenage years, that my life was really out of my control. I really wished that I could just learn and do all the fun things and cool extracurriculars that I thought everybody else my age was doing.”

Ms. Fowler worked as a stable hand and a nanny to help support her family. “And I would tell myself, in the times when I would be really, really sad, ‘Once I get out of here, I’m going to do something great.’ And I would just pray at night, like, ‘God, please just let me get out, give me opportunities to get out. I promise I’ll do good with it.’”

At 16, she began “freaking out” about her future. “I had this really intense resolve. I would call universities and community colleges and say, ‘I really want to go to college? How do I get to college. What do I do?’ And they would say, ‘You have to get an application. You have to get letters of recommendation.’ It was terrifying. I had no idea what I was doing.”

She figured out how to take the SAT and ACT. She made a list of all the books she had read and at the top wrote, “Susan Fowler’s Home School” and sent it off to Arizona State University.

“And they actually gave me a full scholarship,” she says, the wonder still in her voice.

The college balked at letting her take math and physics to study astronomy, given her lack of high-school prerequisites. “And I was like, ‘No! I didn’t come this far, now that I’ve found something I really loved, to have my dream smashed,’” Ms. Fowler says.

She applied to the top 10 colleges as a transfer student and was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was told she could study physics and given help with the steep tuition.

After a rough first semester, advisers tried to steer her away from physics. So she walked into the office of Penn’s president, Amy Gutmann, and left a message with her assistant: In a commencement speech, Ms. Gutmann had said that the school would help students fulfill their dreams.

“I heard back directly from the president herself, and she was like, ‘You are right. This is a place for people to fulfill their dreams.’” She told Ms. Fowler she could get back to her whiteboards, and after that, it was “fantastic.”

The Memo That Roared

The essay that shook Silicon Valley was called “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber,” and Ms. Fowler began by noting that it was “a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story.” Published on Feb. 19, it rocked the world’s most valuable start-up, challenging the mantra that great disrupters are above the law. The blog post was notable for its dispassionate tone, as the young engineer who had left the company after a year walked the reader through everything that had gone very, very wrong in the brozilla culture of kegs, sexual coarseness and snaky competition.

Ms. Fowler was on her first day with her new engineering team when her manager sent her a string of messages over the company chat system.

“He’s telling me that he’s in an open relationship and that his girlfriend is getting laid all the time, but he just can’t because he’s at work all the time,” she says, reprising her blog post with me. “And he’s trying really hard not to get in trouble at work, but he’s really looking for a woman to have sex with. And I was like, ‘What the hell? This can’t be real. How stupid does he have to be?’ But it turned out he’d been getting away with this for so long, he didn’t care anymore. And I feel like so many of these men, they believe that the only reason women get into these jobs is to get a guy.”

Ms. Fowler took screen shots and reported the manager to human resources, thinking, “They’ll do the right thing.” But they didn’t, explaining that the manager was “a high performer” and it was his first offense, something Ms. Fowler later discovered to be untrue.

“Somehow I’m supposed to be like, ‘Oh, he’s a high performer? Never mind. How dare I?’” she says, laughing.

She wrote that H.R. told her she could either find another team to work on or stay on that man’s team and expect a poor performance review. Another manager told her that if she reported stuff to H.R., he could fire her. Amid the manic, sexist behavior, the number of female engineers in the division Ms. Fowler was part of dwindled to less than 6 percent — too few, the company said, to merit ordering them the same black leather jackets they were ordering for the men.

When Ms. Fowler earned some money from “Production-Ready Microservices,” a book on engineering she wrote, she went out to Madewell and bought herself a black leather jacket.

“I didn’t really care if they branded me a troublemaker,” she says, “because I hadn’t gotten that far in my life and overcome all these things to get treated inappropriately. I wasn’t going to take it. I’d worked so hard. I deserved so much better. And I was, like, ‘No. That’s not O.K. You don’t get to do that.’”

In her memo, she says, “I knew I had to be super-careful about how I said it if I wanted anybody to take it seriously. A lot of women have been whistle-blowers in the past, and a lot of them have just gotten torn down and treated terribly. One of the things that kept popping up was this idea that if you do whistle-blow about sexual harassment, then that is what will define the rest of your life. And I kind of struggled with this. But then, to me, I realized, you know what? No. Stepping back, just being in my little Stoicism Susan bubble, if what people know you for is bringing light to an issue about bad behavior, about bad stuff going on and laws not being followed and people being treated inappropriately, why wouldn’t I want that? That’s a badge of honor.

“And I wasn’t just standing up for myself. 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.”


Like women in Hollywood I talked to after the Weinstein collapse, Ms. Fowler thought the new outspokenness in Silicon Valley on sexual harassment may have been spurred by the election of President Trump.

“The second Trump won, I felt super-powerless and I thought, ‘Oh my God, no one’s looking out for us,’” she says. “They have the House, they have the Senate, they have the White House. And so we have to take it back ourselves. We have to be the ones doing the work.”

The only woman on the board then, Arianna Huffington, who had vowed that the culture of “brilliant jerks” must end, had been trying to help Mr. Kalanick by advising him to sleep more and meditate. But he caused another kerfuffle when he chose to meditate in the lactation room.

When Ms. Fowler’s memo exploded, Ms. Huffington oversaw the investigation by Eric Holder, reached out and talked to employees, and said she wanted to “hold the leadership team’s feet to the fire.” Uber later fired 20 people, including senior executives.

“So I was disappointed in her because I expected her to be an advocate,” Ms. Fowler says, noting that Ms. Huffington appeared on TV after the blog post to insist that there’s no “systemic problem” at Uber.


“I had two friends who went to her and Liane Hornsey, who’s the head of H.R., and reported various harassment discrimination,” Ms. Fowler says. “And then I was told that many other women were doing the same thing. And then Arianna went on TV that same week and said, there’s no ‘systemic problem.’ Which I was like, ‘No, a whole bunch of people just went to you this week.’” Ms. Fowler adds that the company’s C.T.O., Thuan Pham, who knew about her complaints, is still in the same job.

Ms. Huffington told me that she agreed that the problem was “systemic sexism,” but that she did not believe there was “systemic sexual harassment.” But, she added, “there should be zero tolerance for even one case of sexual harassment.”

“I was totally supportive of having a full investigation of her claims,” Ms. Huffington says. “That’s why we brought in a former attorney general to investigate. I don’t think you can do a lot more than that.”

Ms. Fowler is not so sure. “The one interaction we had was right after I published the blog, when I started getting calls from friends and family and even acquaintances I hadn’t talked to in years and years who were getting calls about private investigators asking about it,” she says “And I was pretty sure that this was coming from Uber or someone close to Uber. So I sent an email to some of the members of the Uber board because I was like, ‘Look, I don’t know if you’re responsible for this, but hey, if you’re doing this, please stop.’

“And Arianna responded and she was like, ‘Travis has assured me that he did not do this.’ And I replied, asking her, ‘O.K., well, then, could you please go and say publicly, “Whoever’s doing this, stop,” if somebody is?’”

Ms. Huffington told me that “the board had a complete assurance from management that nothing was done like that or would be.”


Speaking to The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Ms. Hornsey, who joined Uber a month after Ms. Fowler left and a month before the famous blog post, was asked if she had ever reached out to Ms. Fowler.

“I have said, very publicly, ‘Thank you’ to her because she raised some stuff that did lead to change,” she said. “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.”

Ms. Fowler tweeted a screen shot of that part of the interview, saying: “Oooh burn” and “She really, really doesn’t like me.”

On the advice of a friend, Ms. Fowler got private security for the first few weeks after she published her incendiary essay.

She thinks Silicon Valley needs to get rid of forced arbitration. “When you join these companies, they make you sign away your constitutional right to sue,” she says.

Ms. Fowler has taken that to the Supreme Court, and as is her wont, is studying the syllabuses of Columbia Law School so she can learn more about her rights.

She now has a job at Stripe as the editor of its tech publication. And she’s working with Verve, a Hollywood talent agency, developing a movie based on her experiences, described by the agency to me as “Erin Brockovich” meets “The Social Network.”


Meanwhile, Ms. Fowler is still reading the Stoics (while Mr. Kalanick is still wrestling with the board about who should control the company he started). “I think, right now especially, with Trump in the White House, who knows what’s going on with North Korea? Then we have natural disasters happening. It just feels like you’re being tossed around on the ocean and there’s nothing. What I keep going back to and what keeps me going, is trying to do good in whatever little spot of the world we can influence, no matter how small.”

As we leave, I ask Ms. Fowler if she’s knows the baby’s sex.

“A girl,” she says, smiling radiantly. “I’m so excited. Now I’m just like, ‘Got to make this world better so she doesn’t have to deal with these things.’”
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Re: Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber

Postby admin » Mon Oct 23, 2017 11:45 pm

Good Universe lands movie rights to ex-Uber engineer Susan Fowler’s sexual harassment story
by Sarah Buhr (@sarahbuhr)
October 23, 2017

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Independent film production company Good Universe beat out three other bidders to land “Disruptors,” the movie based on former Uber engineer Susan Fowler’s sexual harassment story.

Fowler likely had no idea her blog post about her “One very, very strange year” dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination at Uber would culminate in the ousting of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, a pledge of sweeping changes at the company and a movie deal.

In her original post, Fowler outlined repeated attempts to raise a flag about bad behavior at the hands of leadership and a culture that supported harassment and discrimination. Among many absurdities, Fowler wrote she reported to HR a male supervisor who inappropriately propositioned her but was told that nothing would be done as this person was a “top performer.”

We don’t have many details about the movie or what will go into it just yet, though we’ve reached out to Fowler’s LA-based talent agency Verve for more.

What we do know is that the movie was being shopped around earlier this month and, according to Deadline, which first noted the movie rights were in play, will be written by Oscar-nominated “Hidden Figures” screenwriter Allison Schroeder and produced by former Disney executive Kristin Burr.

Erin Westerman is credited with landing the project for Good Universe and will oversee it as it develops. She told Deadline, “This project is an anthem for women, and an important reminder of the power of one female voice.”

Fowler just held her first interview since penning her blog post on the events that took place during her tenure at Uber. She also sent her book on the subject to publishers last week. We’re hearing competition is fierce for the publishing rights and the book is likely to get picked up soon, as well.
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Re: Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber

Postby admin » Wed Dec 13, 2017 12:26 am

Uber Investor Shervin Pishevar Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Multiple Women: Five women tell Bloomberg the venture capitalist used his position of power to pursue romantic relationships and unwanted sexual encounters.
by Emily Chang
November 30, 2017, 6:09 PM MST Updated on November 30, 2017, 7:27 PM MST

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In December 2014, Uber held its annual holiday party on an unfurnished floor at its swank, mood-lit headquarters in San Francisco. Employees and investors attended in flamboyant attire from the “Roaring ‘20s” and drank at an open bar into the early morning hours. Venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, several attendees recall, brought a live pony on a leash.

Pishevar, an early backer of the ride-hailing company who was a board observer at the time, allegedly did something else memorable that night. According to current and former colleagues with knowledge of the events that evening, the then 40-year old investor approached Austin Geidt, Uber’s 30-year-old head of global expansion, placed his hand on her leg and moved it up her dress. Geidt squirmed away, the colleagues say.

It was not the first time Pishevar had made advances toward Geidt, which she declined to reciprocate, according to the colleagues. Geidt joined Uber Technologies Inc. as an intern in 2010. She was soon tasked with launching Uber in new cities, where Pishevar, a major Democratic Party donor, offered valuable political and business connections.

Image
Shervin Pishevar
Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg


Over the years, these people say, Pishevar seemed to take a liking to Geidt, following her around at company events, and at times placing his hand on her leg or lower back. A person with firsthand knowledge of the holiday party incident and these other encounters confirmed the account of Pishevar’s behavior to Bloomberg. Geidt, who’s now head of operations for Uber’s autonomous driving unit, declined to comment for this story.

Five other women who met Pishevar in a professional context told Bloomberg they were sexually assaulted or harassed by him. In each case, the women accused Pishevar of exploiting a professional connection, and using the prospect of a job, mentorship or investment to make an unwanted sexual advance. They all asked not to be identified, citing fears over the investor’s history of filing lawsuits and concerns that he could wield his influence in the tech industry to ruin their careers. Earlier this year, Pishevar got a U.K. court to prohibit a local newspaper from reporting on his arrest following a rape allegation against him. London police investigated and didn’t charge him. He later sued what he described as an opposition research firm, claiming it was trying to spread false allegations about him.

In an emailed statement, an attorney for Pishevar says he and his then girlfriend made a brief appearance at Uber’s holiday party with the pony, which was wearing a Santa hat. He denied touching Geidt inappropriately then or making sexual advances toward her at other events. Randa Osman, his lawyer at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, says Pishevar and Geidt maintained “a friendly, professional relationship” and referenced emails from 2015 and 2016 in which she agreed to meet him for lunch and coffee.

A person, who was referred to Bloomberg by Pishevar’s spokesman but asked not to be identified, says she attended the Uber party and didn’t witness the alleged incident. She confirms that Pishevar left the event after a short period of time and says he wouldn’t have been able to touch Geidt because he was holding the pony’s leash in one hand and a drink in the other. She says she wasn’t with Pishevar the entire time and never saw Geidt.

Like Hollywood, Washington and New York City, Silicon Valley is in a moral crisis after a litany of revelations about predatory behavior by powerful men. Venture capitalists Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital, Steve Jurvetson of DFJ and Dave McClure of 500 Startups all left their firms following accusations of misconduct. Roy Price, the former head of Amazon Studios, resigned in October after a producer accused him of sexual harassment.

Pishevar, co-founder and managing director of Sherpa Capital, is a powerful figure in the Valley and a bridge to establishment figures on both coasts. He cultivated a relationship with Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick and publicly came to his defense when he was ousted as chief executive officer and sued by another investor. Pishevar made a formal request in August to join that lawsuit so his support for Kalanick could be heard. In addition to investing in Uber, he made early bets on Airbnb Inc., Warby Parker and Tumblr, which Yahoo bought for $1.1 billion.

Over the years, Pishevar has given more than $500,000 to Democratic candidates and committees, including the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. President Obama appointed him to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in 2015. He is also the co-founder and co-executive chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One, which is seeking to develop a futuristic tube-based transportation system with Richard Branson. Pishevar is close to several Hollywood celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton and briefly dated Tyra Banks in 2014. After Donald Trump defeated Clinton last year, Pishevar publicly suggested California should secede from the U.S.

The five women who spoke to Bloomberg say Pishevar used his position of power to pursue romantic relationships and unwanted sexual encounters. Pishevar’s representatives declined to comment on these allegations before publication but later sent a statement saying, “We are confident that these anecdotes will be shown to be untrue.”

One female entrepreneur says Pishevar asked to meet with her a few years ago to discuss investing in her company. During a dinner meeting, she says Pishevar started to hit on her, though she made it clear she was only interested in a business relationship. Pishevar tried to earn some sympathy by explaining that he and his wife were getting a divorce. (They filed for divorce in 2013, court records show.) Later in the evening, she says Pishevar forced himself on her, kissing and groping her. “I’m pushing back and trying to talk about anything else,” the entrepreneur recalls. “It is really shady, this baiting and switching that he does.”

Another female tech worker says she reached out to Pishevar to discuss career opportunities in 2013. She met him for dinner at a San Francisco restaurant, and afterward, he invited her back to his home. She went because they had not yet talked about potential jobs. When they got there, the woman says Pishevar forcibly kissed her. “He basically jumped on me, tried to put his tongue down my throat, and I stopped it,” she says. “I wanted to get career advice, and it was twisted into something else. It was really inappropriate.”

“I wanted to get career advice, and it was twisted into something else.”


Also in 2013, a woman Pishevar had hired to work for him says he repeatedly tried to pressure her into having sex with him. She says she told him several times she did not want to lead him in the wrong direction and was not interested in a romantic relationship, including in a Facebook message reviewed by Bloomberg. Still, she says that on a trip, he booked them a single hotel room and that night attempted to perform oral sex on her until she convinced him to stop. “It felt really wrong, and it was really confusing at the time,” she says. “I just remember his big body on top of me. I was young enough to be his daughter.” She says one of the few people she confided in was her sister, who recounted their conversation to Bloomberg and described the events as a lasting trauma.

A fourth woman says Pishevar hired her company to do work for him in 2015. He invited her to a party in Los Angeles. Late that evening, the woman says Pishevar cornered her and forcibly kissed her. She pushed him off, but in the weeks that followed, she says he repeatedly harassed her. “I was so uncomfortable; it was one of the most uncomfortable situations I’ve ever been in,” she says. “He was basically trying to bully me into dating him.” She insisted that she wanted to keep the relationship professional, and eventually he gave up. She told a friend at the time, who later relayed the details of her account to Bloomberg.

At the Web Summit in Dublin in November 2013, Pishevar spoke onstage with Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk. One night at the conference, another female entrepreneur says she visited a suite at the Shelbourne Dublin hotel where Pishevar had convened an after-party with other founders and investors. Gradually, various partygoers disappeared into adjoining rooms, and the entrepreneur found herself alone on the couch, seated between Pishevar and another man. Pishevar was holding a phone—she does not recall who it belonged to—and began showing her images of vaginas. “They start showing me photos of female genitalia,” the woman says. “It became really scary. The other guy was just really, really nasty, and Shervin was just laughing and swiping the photos.” The woman says she texted a friend who rescued her before anything else happened.

Image
Shervin Pishevar, right, with former Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, center, and Elon Musk at the Dublin Web Summit in 2013.Photographer: Brian Lawless/PA Images/Getty Images

On May 27, 2017, Pishevar was arrested in London after a woman accused him of raping her at the Ned hotel. Pishevar was “released under investigation” and never charged, according to London police. He secured an injunction preventing at least one publication, the Sun newspaper, from reporting on the arrest. Afterward, Pishevar extended his trip to stay in London for about three weeks and told people he was unable to travel due to a perforated eardrum, three people say. In June, he sent an email to employees at Sherpa Capital saying he’d had a medical emergency. Eventually, he was able to return home to San Francisco.

Police confirmed they investigated the alleged incident at the Ned and eventually decided that no further action would be taken, according to a London police spokesman. He didn’t elaborate on the basis for that decision, consistent with police policy. Pishevar says he was detained briefly and that the assault claim was untrue. Pishevar hired Mark Fabiani, a crisis management expert who also represents the Los Angeles Chargers football team and Bill O’Reilly, the former Fox News host ousted over sexual harassment allegations. Fabiani says: “In May 2017, Mr. Pishevar was detained briefly in London in connection with an alleged sexual assault, an allegation he categorically denied. He fully cooperated with the police investigation which was exhaustive and detailed. In July he was informed that no further action would be taken against him, and he was ‘de-arrested’ (a British legal term).”

Earlier this month, Pishevar sued a consulting firm run by Republican campaign veterans and accused it of spreading false information about him. The firm, Definers Public Affairs, said in a statement that it has never conducted work regarding Pishevar and called his claims “delusional.” A week later, the Sun reported that it successfully challenged Pishevar’s gag order in the U.K.’s High Court after he had spent £100,000 ($130,000) on the case.

Nevertheless, Pishevar’s legal actions had an impact. Some of the women who shared allegations of Pishevar’s misbehavior with Bloomberg had originally agreed to be identified by name. After his lawsuit, they withdrew their names, citing the legal risks of speaking out.

— With assistance by Olivia Zaleski, Eric Newcomer, Sarah McBride, Ellen Huet, Giles Turner, and Tony Aarons
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