Just days after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler alleged in a viral blogpost that that management and HR dismissed her complaints about documented sexual harassment and sexism, protected a repeat offender because he was a “high performer” and suggested that women in the company were not as skilled as men, another female engineer - this time at Tesla - has accused Elon Musk’s car company of ignoring her complaints of “pervasive harassment”, paying her a lower salary than men doing the same work, promoting less qualified men over her and retaliating against her for raising concerns.
The reason why first the Uber, and now the Tesla allegations will likely shake Silicon Valley to the core, is that if confirmed, this bastion of liberal tolerance may end up being yet another hypocritical myth, with corporate prerogatives and the bottom line driving everything.
The allegations of AJ Vandermeyden, who voiced her complaints to the Guardian, and who still works at the celebrated electric car manufacturer, "paint a picture of a hostile work environment dominated by men where inappropriate sexual behavior is tolerated and women face numerous barriers to advance their careers."
Offering a rare public account of discrimination from a tech worker who remains employed at her company, Vandermeyden said her dedication to Tesla motivated her to advocate for fair treatment and reforms – despite the serious risks she knows she faces for going public.
“Until somebody stands up, nothing is going to change,” she said in a recent interview, her first comments about a discrimination lawsuit she filed last year. “I’m an advocate of Tesla. I really do believe they are doing great things. That said, I can’t turn a blind eye if there’s something fundamentally wrong going on.”
Vandermeyden began at Tesla in 2013 and was eventually promoted to a manufacturing engineering position in the general assembly department, which consisted mostly of men and where she was paid less than male engineers whose work she directly took over, according to her complaint. It was common for her to be the only woman in meetings with 40 to 50 men, she said on a recent morning, seated in the living room of her family’s house in San Carlos, the city where Tesla was founded, located across the bay from its current factory in Fremont.
Another example: Vandermeyden recounted to the Guardian an incident in 2015 when she said a group of roughly 20 men standing on a platform above her and a female colleague began taunting as they walked past. “They all started hooting and hollering and whistling,” she said. “That can’t happen without somebody noticing … It’s disturbing.”
But her objections about sexual harassment and unequal pay only caused her more trouble, according to her complaint. The lawsuit alleges that after she raised concerns in the fall of 2015, management told her that in order to advance her position, she needed to achieve a performance standard in the factory that was unattainable and not expected of male engineers.
There is much more in the full article, but the jist is clear: while there has been a mounting pressure in the Valley to address allegations latent sexism, so far it has been mostly ignored and instead was projected externally, with the idealistic denizens of the rich enclave focusing on "social evils" far away from the California, ideally slamming Trump. Should more such accusers emerge - and they are virtually assured now that the seal has been broken - Silicon Valley may have no choice but to forget the evils of the outside worlds, look inside, and change what some have said is a very hyporcritical corporate culture.