When Kris Duggan’s article '6 lessons every business leader should learn from Uber’s uphill culture battle' was published, little did he know that in 2 days, a lawsuit will fly in his face questioning him whether he is walking the talk about things written in the article. In this article, he says “In Uber’s sexual harassment case, which ultimately propelled a lawsuit and other negative ramifications, it seems the employee didn’t have an appropriate channel for raising her complaint and concerns.” The lawsuit filed 2 days later alleges that similar situations exist at BetterWorks.
In the lawsuit filed by an ex-employee, she has implicated not only the CEO but also the regional VP and VP of people operations. Interestingly in both Uber and BetterWorks cases, the HR function is lead by a woman and both have been alleged to have ignored the complaints. This is the 2nd case in quick succession focusing on the lack of diversity & sensitivity particularly to women and other minorities, especially in Silicon Valley technology companies. After Zenefits this is another HR Tech company to come in the news for wrong reasons.
In her complaint Kim Beatrice claims that she experienced hostile working environment based on her gender while working at BetterWorks, enduring vulgar and graphic jokes about women, rape, and female body parts. She further alleges that complaints to HR and senior leaders were either ignored or the women were asked to be a 'cool girl' about such issues.
A look at the details of the complaint filed by her, one clearly sees examples of not only sexually suggestive comments about women but also how they are supposed to behave as compared to men at work. The examples cited in the complaint, seem to suggest a gender biased workplace and refers to the lack of inclusive culture in the company. The complaint also refers to discriminating practices not just based on gender but also based on sexual orientation.
The key aspect here is, such behavior by senior leaders in the organization when reported to HR led to no significant action as per prevalent rules and regulations were taken by the company. This further highlights the importance of HR and their role in such situations.In the case of BetterWorks, based on details filed in the complaint it appears that while company promised to take certain action/s but nothing “meaningful” was done. The complaint calls out following “causes of action” – Sexual Harassment, Gender discrimination, negligent hiring, retention and supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress amongst others.
Post the Uber-Susan Fowler incident; many women have come forward to report sexual harassment and discrimination at the workplace especially in the tech industry. Such cases highlight the importance of practicing what you preach and how living values that we espouse is an important aspect in business. Such instances not only highlight the role each person plays in building the organizational culture but also highlight the important role HR needs to play in such situations.