What Happened at Snap Isn’t an Anomaly

By: Jaime-Alexis Fowler, Founder and Executive Director of Empower Work

Last Wednesday, this tweet suddenly appeared in my feed:

 

When I first read Shannon’s message, I didn’t know what she meant. While people are listening?

After a few seconds of scrolling I realized: she’d gone public.

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Rewind to a few weeks back. Shannon and I were chatting in the kitchen at The Assembly, a space our team uses for work. The conversation ranged broadly and then she paused, “so tell me more about what you do.”

I mentioned I ran an organization that provides free, immediate, anonymous support via text for challenging work situations.

“Wow, I could have used something like that.”

Shannon shared a bit of her experience — that she’d been an engineer at Snap; that it was a toxic, sexist environment; that she’d decided to leave not just Snap, but likely engineering altogether. She was taking time to figure it out.

We ate lunch, discussed what fuels certain company cultures, and talked about some options for when people face tough work situations, including a few of the proactive steps she’d taken to address things internally.

 

Shannon’s experience is unfortunately all too common, not just in tech, but across many American industries. As Madeline Buxton succinctly wrote this week after Shannon’s internal email was picked up by Cheddar and a slew of outlets, “the problems Lubetich faced are not an anomaly — her email is just the one that got out.”

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People face myriad toxic workplace situations across a broad spectrum including, but by no means limited to, bullying, microaggressions, power imbalances, harassment, unethical practices, gaslighting, and discrimination, to name a small subset. These situations are so prevalent, employees will almost certainly face at least one, if not a combination, while they’re in the workforce. What’s not certain is whether they’ll get the support they need to address these situations as they arise.

In our research last year asking Americans about their experience at work, 80% of people indicated that a challenge they faced at work was “extremely difficult” and nearly 40% didn’t have someone to talk to about it.

In most of these situations, there are no clear, prescriptive solutions. No one size fits all. The challenges people encounter are deeply personal and contextual, impacted by identity, gender, race, socioeconomic status, education, differing abilities, and more. The steps they take to move forward — are personal and contextual as well. What feels right and empowering for one person in one situation could cause another to feel even more uncomfortable or vulnerable.

We need environments, teams, cultures, companies where employees can talk about their challenges, without judgement or fear of retaliation. We know that in addition to toxic work environments having a negative impact, employees feeling unheard or unsupported can disempower them and can negatively impact their career prospects and opportunities. This has far-reaching implications for the employee, as well as for the company.

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When Shannon experienced toxic, sexist behavior, Shannon, she chose to take action directly with individuals and talk to HR. Ultimately, she decided to shine a light on the environment in her departure email with the hope that her workplace would commit to change. That decision was deeply personal. Her actions have sparked a discussion about toxic behavior in the workplace and, once again, thrust the issue into the limelight.

While people are listening…let’s make sure every person feels supported at work. No one facing a toxic work situation should feel alone. Every person deserves an accessible advocate to help them navigate a complex work situation, when they arise, in a way that feels true to them.

We know at Empower Work, one supportive conversation can make a significant difference. That’s why we’re here.