Though I hesitate to write yet another Uber piece this week, this one is worth mentioning just because it illustrates how all the formal investigations and programs in the world can’t instantly change the individuals in a company or the culture they collectively embody. It appears that at the internal Uber meeting to announce the conclusion of the Holder investigation and how its recommendations would be rolled out, board member David Bonderman made what certainly came off as a highly sexist remark. Though he suggests the remark was misunderstood, it was almost impossibly tone deaf in the context, and he has subsequently resigned from the Uber board, which feels like the only way this could have ended once word got out. But it’s symbolic of both just how hard changing culture actually is when some biases and mindsets are so deeply ingrained, and also of how differently Uber is going to approach all these issues going forward, with much less tolerance for any missteps. That’s a good thing, and one of the few early and visible signs that things really are going to be different, though of course so far it’s only really been applied to those incidents high profile enough to capture attention from outside of Uber.
The long-awaited investigation by Eric Holder and Tammy Albarrán of law firm Covington & Burling into the workplace culture at Uber has concluded and its recommendations made public. The fact that the report contains twelve pages of recommendations is evidence in and of itself just how broken the corporate culture at Uber has become, and quite how much it needs to change. That change, the recommendations suggest, needs to start at the top with the composition, independence, and responsibilities of the board, and work its way down through the CEO, Travis Kalanick (some of whose responsibilities should be handed over to others), and on from there. The changes recommended are sweeping, which seems appropriate given just how badly things have gone, and importantly they include many layers of accountability with real consequences attached to both good and bad behavior from performance reviews to financial incentives. Travis Kalanick is apparently going to take a leave of absence, partly to grieve for his mother who was killed recently in a boating accident, but partly also to get some time away from his job and reflect on all that’s gone on, which seems very sensible too. But one of the most notable aspects of this whole thing is just how much of a role Kalanick and the culture he has personally created at Uber is responsible for so many of the issues, and one of the biggest questions remains whether he personally can change enough to fit in with all the other changes that will be made both immediately and over time. All that’s gone on at Uber should also serve as a cautionary tale for many other tech firms, some of which will be looking down at Uber at this time but many of which have many of the same cultural flaws, even if to a lesser degree (or merely less publicly). The recommendations in the Holder report would almost all be considered best practice in the fields they cover rather than merely remedies to be applied after a major failure. I suspect every company would be better off by following the majority or even all of them.
In what’s really not a great sign ahead of the release of Uber’s “independent” investigation into its workplace culture, it’s HR head has said she has found that discrimination and harassment really weren’t major issues internally relative to other employee concerns. That doesn’t really answer several other questions including whether they are issues at all, and whether perhaps employees don’t feel comfortable sharing their real feelings with internal management for all the reasons others have said. It’s still possible that the investigation will reach different conclusions, but this quote feels tone deaf and designed – as with past comments from board member Arianna Huffington – to get the retaliation in first. That doesn’t seem likely to be successful: the reaction I’ve seen on Twitter today to the quotes in the piece has been very negative.
via USA Today
The Uber investigation into harassment and discrimination claims is being extended by another month or so because the people running it haven’t finished their work yet, and importantly haven’t been able to interview several key people including HR execs. While it’s certainly better to be thorough than quick in a case like this, that seems worryingly like a sign of lack of cooperation from key people, which makes me wonder how effective the investigation will end up being. One would assume that Arianna Huffington and other board members would be putting significant pressure on executives and employees in general to cooperate, so any barriers to that cooperation are signs of some pretty deep dysfunction within the company (not that that would be surprising at this point). But it also means all this will be hanging over Uber for even longer than previously anticipated.
There has been a slew of these stories lately, the main tenor of which is that Uber is unfortunately not as much of an exception as we might like to think in Silicon Valley and the tech world more broadly. This piece has both some trend data and some specifics about other individuals beyond Susan Fowler, who wrote the story about her time at Uber recently. All of this, of course, is in large part an outgrowth of the lack of diversity in tech companies and the prevailing culture among engineers more broadly. Lots to digest here and lots of work to do, well beyond Uber and its current troubles.
via USA Today