Opinion | Susan Fowler: Why I Wrote the Uber Memo

While I was still working at Uber, facing constant mistreatment, I’d made a habit of reading a famous passage by Marcus Aurelius on the way to the North Berkeley BART station each day, to prepare myself for what I’d encounter at the office: “Say to yourself first thing in the morning: Today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them though their ignorance of true good and true evil. But I have seen the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong.” On particularly tough days, I’d turn to the words of Fred Rogers: “Try your best to make goodness attractive. That’s one of the toughest assignments you’ll ever be given.” I’d remind myself that even though goodness was considered a vice at Uber, and aggression considered a virtue, I had to hold on to my own values.

Sitting in front of my laptop that day, I remembered these words and those of other philosophers — Aristotle, Plato, Epictetus, Seneca, Immanuel Kant — searching for insight into how to do the right thing and, most important, how to know what was right. There was only one conclusion: Telling the story of my time at Uber was the right thing to do, regardless of the consequences.

And so I wrote the blog post. I knew my tone had to be measured, balanced and detached. I made sure that every single sentence was something I could back up with extensive written documentation. Then I pressed “publish.”

Within half an hour, the post was picked up by almost every major media outlet. Everything went haywire: My phone crashed and restarted itself over and over again, unable to withstand the barrage of notifications. My inbox was filled with requests from television stations, magazines and newspapers around the world. So was my voice mail. Once he was able to get through, my stepfather called, frantic. A television producer had told him that I was in an emergency, and that they needed to contact me immediately; thinking that I had been hurt or was in trouble, he’d given them my phone number. Many of my friends and relatives texted me, confused, because reporters were calling them and asking for information about me and what I’d written.

It didn’t take very long for Uber to discover what I’d done, either: Travis Kalanick, then the chief executive of Uber, posted a link to my blog post on Twitter, saying “What’s described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired”; Uber hired Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general, to run an investigation into my claims and Uber’s culture.

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