As Uber undergoes an attempt to investigate the culture of sexual harassment within its company in the wake of an HR nightmare of a blog post written by a former employee, you’d think that they’d also consider the women that drive for them.
“I do think Susan [Fowler] and I were victims of the same ‘bro-fraternity’ culture at Uber,” she said. “But for us female drivers, it’s different than with engineers. The company views us as expendable, as having no value at all.”
Women who drive for Uber face a lot of the same issues women who work in other customer-facing jobs do, but the work is that much more dangerous because drivers are essentially inviting strangers into their cars, with little to no protection. The ratings system that Uber drivers rely on for job security is another part of the problem. Drivers can rate their passengers and report incidents as they see fit.
After a ride with a harassing passenger, drivers have two options. They can flag a rider as “unpleasant” — with a text box to elaborate — or report a “serious incident,” something the app defines as anything that impacted the driver’s “personal safety or ability to complete this trip.
But the app won’t distinguish between the reasons why a driver ended a ride. Regardless, when a driver attempts to report incidents of harassment or otherwise, they get the same generic response. When Galindo reported incidents that made her feel unsafe, the response was less than encouraging.
In one instance, Galindo flagged a male rider who moved to touch her arm in way that made her uncomfortable. “[He is] a big dude, tightly fitting on the front passenger seat, raise[s] his left arm and tries to lay his hand on me,” she wrote in a note to Uber. “I raise[d] my right arm and push his hand with my forearm.” The man relented, but he had been making some off-color comments about women during the ride, and Galindo thought Uber should be alerted.
Galindo shared Uber’s response to the incident, a generic email that thanked her for being professional but didn’t indicate the incident would be followed up on. “I can understand why you wrote in about this. I know that not all trips will have 5-star riders,” an Uber rep who identifies herself as Danica wrote. “We trust and appreciate your professionalism and judgment to handle challenging situations like this one.”
Asher-Schapiro notes that there are dedicated teams that work for Uber “for issues it considers serious or sensitive,” but the company did not comment on whether or not that support staff was equipped to handle sexual harassment claims or how Uber handles these specific complaints. Their lack of transparency surrounding this issue, which likely affects a wide swath of their contract employees is frustrating, but somehow unsurprising. If women who work for the company endured the kind of insane sexual harassment that Susan Fowler wrote about with little recourse until it all blew up in their faces, why would they take measure to protect their drivers?
Galindo eventually quit driving for Uber after finding other work, but many who choose to work for Uber are doing so because they need the money. Driving for Uber for some is a temporary gig, a way to make money in between steadier things, with the flexibility to make your own schedule, but many others keep at it because they can’t afford to quit otherwise. Galindo has considered filing a suit against Uber, but ultimately decided against it. “I live paycheck to paycheck, [it’s] hard to afford time off,” she told the Intercept. “I just don’t have the means to buy justice.”