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Uber Drains the Swamp, but Is It Too Deep?

Sarah Thomas
6/7/2017

What makes a problem systematic? How about when 215 employees are accused of the same thing, 20 are fired over the accusations, 57 are still under investigation, 31 are in counseling or training for it and seven have received written warning?

Those are the numbers that came out of an all-hands meeting at Uber yesterday, and the systematic problem is harassment of female employees in addition to discrimination, retaliation and other troubling HR issues. I think it's safe to say that Uber can't dismiss Susan Fowler's original claim of sexual harassment and discrimination as a one-off incident, as Arianna Huffington tried to do in the beginning. (See Uber & Out.)

Uber has a systematic, institutional problem on its hands. It would seem to be addressing it head on, but the magnitude of the problem is alarming to say the least.

Uber said yesterday at the meeting that it has let 20 employees go as a result of the human resources claims around harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It also dismissed another 100, but has ongoing action with the remaining 95. Bloomberg reports that it has also hired former Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) exec Bozoma Saint John as chief brand officer and Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei as senior vice present for leadership and strategy. The movement comes as a result of a Perkins Coie LLP investigation, not to be confused with a separate investigation Covington & Burling is undertaking looking into the hostile culture that Fowler outlined in her blog post. (See Uber's HR Nightmare: Company Investigates Sexual Harassment Claims.)


Women in Comms' next networking luncheon is coming up on Nov. 1 in London. Join us during the OSS in the Era of SDN & NFV event for a fun afternoon of networking, lunch and discussion. Register and learn more here.


Uber's "draining of the swamp" is another good and necessary step towards purifying its culture, following its initial steps of hiring outside consultants, releasing a diversity report, searching for a COO and increasing transparency. (See Uber Employs 15% Women in Tech Roles, WiCipedia: Uber's Catalyst for Change & Trump Signs STEM Bills and Uber Engineering SVP Out as Probe Continues.)

With numbers like those revealed in yesterday's meeting, however, you have to wonder how deep the swamp goes. It's been clear from the start that it does permeate straight to the top, with the culture seemingly perpetuated, even encouraged, by Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and other senior level executives. But, it is now clear it is much wider and deeper than that as well. (See WiC Panel: Diversity Must Flow Top Down and WiCipedia: More Uber Upsets & Tennis to Tech.)

This is far from the last we'll hear from Uber and its efforts to transform both its image and its ways. Results from Covington & Burling are expected next week as the saga continues. If Uber can pull off a turnaround of its public image, and more importantly its actual culture, it will give hope to the rest of the tech industry, which also suffers from these types of issues, albeit I'd hope on a smaller scale. If it can't accomplish this... well, you won't find many industry observers who are surprised. (See Silicon Valley Writer Foresees End of Bro Culture and Culture in Crisis: What's Next for Uber & Tech?)

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

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mendyk
mendyk
6/14/2017 | 2:25:20 AM
Re: Should the CEO go too?
We all choose our own knowledge base. That's what makes us such wonderful snowflakes.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
6/13/2017 | 6:03:26 PM
Re: Should the CEO go too?
I'm not suggesting people turned a blind eye; they genuinely didn't know as they likely don't read tech blogs regularly (until recently when it's gotten out of control and reported by mainstream press. The fact that Uber isn't suffering financially yet and rather saw its financials improve in the last quarter suggest not many are taking the moral high ground, whether they know about what's going on or not.
mendyk
mendyk
6/13/2017 | 5:31:30 PM
Re: Should the CEO go too?
Hmmm... I'll refrain from making the "We didn't know what was going on" historical comparisons. Turning a blind eye to bad behavior that is somehow beneficial to us is nothing new. And nothing to be proud of.
mendyk
mendyk
6/13/2017 | 5:31:30 PM
Re: Should the CEO go too?
Hmmm... I'll refrain from making the "We didn't know what was going on" historical comparisons. Turning a blind eye to bad behavior that is somehow beneficial to us is nothing new. And nothing to be proud of.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
6/13/2017 | 10:50:37 AM
Re: Should the CEO go too?
I'm not sure how much the broader public knows about what's going on at Uber. I'm sure more people do know with how public it is getting, but perhaps not previously.
Phil_Britt
Phil_Britt
6/12/2017 | 8:03:28 PM
Re: Should the CEO go too?
My younger daughter quickly dropped Uber for Lyft (I have no need for either) because of the reasons Mitch mentioned. Until this issue is long settled, I think Lyft will be te favored provider for many.

 
mendyk
mendyk
6/12/2017 | 6:18:50 PM
Re: Should the CEO go too?
We'll have to respectfully disagree on this point. There is a connection between moral behavior and microeconomic decisions that we all make every day. And we should not let ourselves off the hook for pursuing a "good deal."
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
6/12/2017 | 11:53:33 AM
Kalanick's sex memo
Kalanick sent a memo out to staff prior to a company retreat a couple of years ago. 

"Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic 'YES! I will have sex with you' AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML."

https://www.recode.net/2017/6/8/15765514/2013-miami-letter-uber-ceo-kalanick-employees-sex-rules-company-celebration

#facepalm
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
6/12/2017 | 11:52:42 AM
Re: Should the CEO go too?
I take Lyft now. Actually more convenient than Uber and less stink. 
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
6/12/2017 | 10:40:31 AM
Uber CEO out?
Okay, looks like kicking Kalanick to the curb is on the table now. Eric Holder's report was released and discussed at a meeting yesterday. The full report will be released to employees tomorrow, but it sounds like the board approved all his recommendations and that a leave of absence for Kalanick plus another new female hire is among the list. More here and more tomorrow:

http://fortune.com/2017/06/11/travis-kalanick-uber-board-meeting-company-changes/
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