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Susan Fowler and the End of the ‘High Performer’ Defense

Susan Fowler and the End of the ‘High Performer’ Defense

Still, she was on alert that when, on her very first day, her manager propositioned her in a corporate chat app. She captured screen shots and headed

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Still, she was on alert that when, on her very first day, her manager propositioned her in a corporate chat app. She captured screen shots and headed straight to the HR department, which quickly verified that she’d been harassed. But, she was told, her manager would not be removed. She was given a choice of staying, and inevitably receiving a negative review (because she reported the bad behavior of the man who would assess her) or joining another team. The reason?

The manager was a “high performer.”

Thus began what she called “One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber,” which included more injustices, including an episode in which Uber bought the male engineers in her group leather jackets to wear as a sign of team pride; the women didn’t get jackets because they might have cost a little more. All of this was devastatingly documented in the blog post that would change her life—and Uber’s.

Things worked out for Fowler. She is now the technology op-ed editor at the New York Times and takes screen-writing classes in her spare time. She won’t be writing the movie script for Whistleblower, though. “Allison Schroeder, who wrote Hidden Figures, is writing the screenplay for that,” she told me.

I hope that between her blog post, book, and movie, we see the end of Silicon Valley’s pathetic High Performer rationale, which posits that someone who contributes mightily to a company’s growth should not suffer consequences for bad workplace behavior. It is a syndrome not limited to Uber. Presumably at Alphabet/Google, the high performance of Android creator Andy Rubin, led the company to give him a generous buyout despite sexual misconduct charges against him. It also seemed to be the reason that when Alphabet’s chief legal officer David Drummond impregnated a subordinate, violating company policy, it was she who had to find a different job at the company. (We learned about this in the employee’s Medium post, perhaps inspired by Fowler’s blog-heard-round-the-world.) Drummond eventually resigned.

As Fowler put it, “I can’t imagine that someone could actually really be a high performer—meaning like a good employee for the company—if they’re mistreating other people.”

Think of those so-called high performers as chefs who create delicious dishes but include toxins among their ingredients. The meals are exquisite—until the diners are hospitalized. You’d think that no one would consciously retain a chef like that. Yet it happens all too often—until some courageous woman goes public with her complaint.

Maybe one day we won’t need the whistle.

Time Travel

In December 1979, a group of Apple Computer employees including co-founder Steve Jobs visited Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center to look at an innovative office system. The person assigned to give the visitors a tour of the technology—which included bit-mapped displays, a mouse, and on-screen windows—was computer scientist Larry Tesler, chosen because he was one of the few PARC people who didn’t think PC’s were a joke, and actually had bought one for himself. Still, he thought that Jobs and company “wouldn’t understand what we were doing and [would] just see pretty dancing things on the screen.”

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