Narrative: Uber's Culture is Toxic
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Narrative: Uber’s Culture is Toxic (Mar 7, 2017)
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Uber Exec in Charge of Pittsburgh Self-Driving Test Quits (Apr 18, 2017)
Uber Had a Program Called Hell Designed to Undermine Lyft (Apr 13, 2017)
Uber comms head Rachel Whetstone is departing – Recode (Apr 11, 2017)
Yet another executive departure from Uber, this time its head of PR. It’s impossible not to see this in the context of Uber’s overall recent troubles, but Whetstone has been there for a number of years now, and interestingly is handing over to another woman. I say interestingly because her successor will have to deal with the reaction to the internal investigation at Uber over sexual harassment, which I can’t imagine will be fun, especially if the investigation concludes that it’s a bad place for women to work. On the other hand, having a woman leading the charge on getting that PR message out could also be seen cynically as a clever strategic move.
We finally have a fleshed-out response from Uber to the Waymo lawsuit over stealing of LIDAR technology, and it doesn’t do much more than muddy the water over this issue. The biggest sticking point here is that Anthony Levandowski, who is alleged to have stolen files from Waymo before he left and used these to develop LIDAR technology at Otto and then Uber, refuses to cooperate with the investigation, and Uber refuses to compel him as an employee to cough up the files. Uber also argues that its LIDAR design is different in key respects from Waymo’s and therefore that it clearly hasn’t been copied from it. The judge seems to be highly skeptical of Uber’s claimed inability to do anything with regard to the Levandowski files, and seems minded to grant at least a temporary injunction against Uber’s LIDAR technology. Uber’s claims that such an injunction would significantly harm its business seem like nonsense – this technology has nothing to do with its core business today and is merely being tested in a few cities. A longer-term injunction would obviously be more damaging because it would stop Uber from advancing the technology, but in and of itself that’s not a valid argument against such an injunction should the judge determine that the design was copied. Lots more to come on this, no doubt.
via Business Insider
TechCrunch wasn’t the only publication to go with a headline like this, and it makes sense: Uber’s diversity report in many ways mirrors those from other big companies in the tech industry, and doesn’t appear noticeably worse on several of the big metrics. Indeed, if you were reading the report itself including the commentary about the various efforts Uber is engaged in, you’d get the impression that Uber was a forward-looking, tolerant, diverse, and vibrant place for people of all backgrounds to work. And that’s the problem with these reports – they say nothing about what it’s actually like to work at the company if you’re in one of the underrepresented groups, and we know from recent news that Uber can actually be pretty awful if you’re a woman, especially in a technical role. So even though Uber comes off not much worse than other big tech companies from the report alone, that shouldn’t be all that reassuring. Since this is the first of these reports, we also have zero data about how things have changed in the past year, and whether they’ve got better or even worse, something some past female employees have suggested. But numbers alone don’t tell the story, and that’s why the investigation – flawed though it is – is critical for evaluating and hopefully changing the other aspects of Uber’s culture as regards diversity which this report says nothing about.
Uber Press Call Highlights Huffington’s Conflict of Interest (Mar 21, 2017)
One of the more troubling things about the sexual harassment investigation at Uber is that Arianna Huffington, who is helping to lead that investigation, is also currently acting as both Uber and Travis Kalanick’s most visible public defender, undermining claims that the investigation is independent. Either Huffington is committed to getting to the bottom of what has happened (and may still be happening) at Uber, or she can defend it and its leadership, but she can’t do both. That she reiterated those public defenses of Kalanick personally on this press call today just reinforces that point. Meanwhile, the call itself revealed little that was new, by all accounts – a previously promised diversity report is indeed on the way, and both the investigation and the COO search are ongoing, with nothing new to report for now. Meanwhile, Kalanick himself was apparently too busy with that COO search to appear on the call, while Uber’s (female) HR manager was available. (The headline here is mine – the headline on the Axios piece linked below focuses on the diversity report.)
Uber president Jeff Jones is quitting, citing differences over ‘beliefs and approach to leadership’ – Recode (Mar 20, 2017)
This is the first high-profile departure from Uber’s executive ranks which is being explicitly described as a response to the toxic culture at the company – Amit Singhal was forced out, while Ed Baker’s reasons for leaving were at least somewhat opaque. But Jeff Jones is, at least by his telling, leaving precisely because of the toxic culture and an unwillingness to stay at a company where he clearly doesn’t feel comfortable. Travis Kalanick’s explanation – which I think can probably be dismissed as face-saving – is that Jones decided to leave after Kalanick announced that he was hiring a COO. The fact that Recode had sources saying Jones’ reason for leaving was cultural even before Jones himself spoke out certainly reinforces that fact. Kalanick’s response just reinforces the sense that he hasn’t changed at all, and that if Uber’s culture is going to change meaningfully, that COO had better be a very strong individual, able to stand up to Kalanick and force real changes.