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Uber Drains the Swamp, but Is It Too Deep?Uber Drains the Swamp, but Is It Too Deep?

The ride-hailing company said it has let 20 employees go over an investigation into sexual harassment claims and is still investigating almost 100 others.

Sarah Thomas

June 7, 2017

3 Min Read
Uber Drains the Swamp, but Is It Too Deep?

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.)

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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

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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