Raquel Won’t Help Uber

I was at Nvidia’s GPU conference last month, a truly amazing event and if you
haven’t been, go. It is worth the money and all the infomercials.

I was fortunate to see Raquel Urtasun speak. She was magnificent. Witty, clever,
articulate, commanding, FRESH. Just was autonomous vehicles need, fresh
perspectives, new insights, a new way of thinking and solving. Besides talking
about all the great research at University of Toronto, she made a very direct and
blunt statement:

Uber is a great company

It was not a veiled comment. It was direct, it was forthright, and it is wrong.
While I think it great that Uber is hiring a woman to “senior role” (whatever that
means, all I can find is she is “head of”, which does not say CEO, COO or C-suite
to me, wtf?!) it doesn’t change the fact that is a beard is still a beard.

People of a particular age or those who know history, will know the term well and
understand it’s ugliness. For those of tender ages, allow me to explain. Before
it was safe for gays and lesbians to be out and open (understanding this isn’t the
case everywhere, thank you Texas) some gay men would date or marry gay or straight
women. It was transparent to them, but to the outside world, they would look like
a stereotypical straight couple. They were in disguise, concealing their true
identity. The woman, was the man’s beard, something he could hide behind. It was
necessary for survival.

Racquel is Uber’s beard.

Or to say it another way, one data point does not a trend make. GREAT for Raquel.
GREAT for all the women in this field to have a visible, positive role model. It
is very important and non-trivial. But she is one woman and it doesn’t fucking
matter until women represent 50.8% of all executive positions at Uber. Or 50.4%
since she is based in Canada, after all.

My point is not that Uber sucks because it is a male-dominated, hostile to women
workplace, and hiring a single very cool woman is not going to change the odious
culture. It may be or it may not be, hopefully the courts will decide. My real
point is that male-dominated, misogynistic work places suck. And there are more of
them than are of diverse and inclusive workplaces. The trend line is going in the
wrong direction.

I’m not saying this because Ellen Pao lost her case. I’m not even saying this
because reading about UploadVR’s kink room is now so common place, which it is. I
am saying this from a deeply personal perspective. I remember vividly the first
time I was objectified by a boss. He was a closeted gay man who liked to have
beautiful young women on his staff in bathing suits as well, as beards to be
honest. We all knew it, it wasn’t a secret so, it didn’t feel as odious. Plus, it
was suburban Virginia and I was a lifeguard at a cushy country club. He ultimately
got caught getting young men drunk and being accused of having non-consensual sex,
which was likely very true, but will hanged himself and took his secrets to the
grave. Except, of course, for his victims, who know the truth.

Sadly, my experiences didn’t get any better as I moved from outside labor to
indoors. I remember the first time I was physically touched at work.  I was 17 years old, working in the Pentagon, when my boss, a Major in theArmy, came up behind my chair, put his hands on my shoulders, looked at the computer monitor, was giving me “feedback” and then proceed to shove his very erect penis in the back of my head. Sadly for him, I didn’t take kindly to this and
slammed my young head into his hard cock, pushed away and screamed in his face as
he was doubling over, “Who the fuck do you think I am?!” before proceeding to find
my father, who at the time was on Undersecretary of the Army on the Joint Chiefs of
Staff. I never saw the man again.

Fast forward to completing graduate school and entering the workforce on my own as
a fully grown, fully realized woman. I know I have and continue to get paid less.
And it still pisses me off. I have had bosses say things like, “I would like to
promote you, but I’m afraid you’ll go off and have another baby.” Or, “You would be
ideal in this role, but you’re a woman, and Japanese men just don’t respect women
so, you will not be effective.”

I’ve been pushed into conference rooms and forced kissed, groped in elevators by
male co-workers, had late night knocks on my hotel room door – all uninvited, all
unwanted, all unsought, all unreported, all un-prosecuted.

Why? Because women never win.

I would just be badged as that woman; that woman that complained; that woman who
can’t get along; that woman who couldn’t be social; THAT WOMAN.

It is still happening and at an alarming rate. The increase in work place
hostility is shocking to me and I didn’t think I could be shocked any longer. It
is now men who don’t take “no” but keep trying. It is now men who don’t even hide
how pissed off they are that a woman outranks them. It is getting angrier and more
aggressive and more hostile and more awful for women in the workplace.

I still use Uber despite a long history of personal boycotts against companies
who’s morals do not match my own. I like the service at Uber. I am glad they are working on
autonomous vehicles. I wish they were better, for sure. I wish their CEO wasn’t
such a fuck-nut, that they didn’t threaten reporters, they didn’t call themselves
Boob-er, that women engineers weren’t treated like shit, that they treated their drivers better, that, that, that….

I hope Raquel is right and that in the future Uber becomes a great company. But it
isn’t now and it won’t ever be until things FUNDAMENTALLY change in our society.
So, for those cool white men out there with all the privilege in the world, use it
for something meaningful. Help make the world a better place for all of us.  And not just for us women in automotive technology.