Apple has announced that its long-standing general counsel, Bruce Sewell, is retiring and will be replaced in the role by Katherine Adams, who joins Apple from a similar role at Honeywell. Normally, the departure of the general counsel at a tech firm wouldn’t be something I’d cover, but this is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, Sewell enjoyed a rather higher profile than most general counsels do over the last couple of years because he was a key figure in Apple’s fight with the FBI, among other things, and of course Apple’s lawsuits against Samsung and more recently Qualcomm have also been fairly high profile. Few corporate lawyers get to implement company strategy quite as directly as Sewell did during his time at Apple, especially with regard to privacy. Adams will obviously take over the Qualcomm case and others Sewell was overseeing along with carrying the mantle of protecting privacy in the context of law enforcement. Secondly, the fact that a woman is replacing a man on Apple’s board means that it now has two out of eleven members who are women. As I noted a month ago, the next tier down of eight executives is evenly split, but until now Angela Ahrendts has been the lone woman on the board. It’s good to see that start to change, and I wonder whether other executives who move on from those senior ranks in the coming years will likewise be replaced by women.
This article dropped on Friday evening as I was logging off for the week, so I’m only getting to it now. But this article was something of a bombshell, detailing not just the scale of harassment, assault, and other misbehavior by men against women in venture capital, but also naming specific names including some who hadn’t been accused previously. There really seems to have been a tipping point in the last few weeks on this topic, where far more women are now willing to speak out about their bad experiences and name their abusers and harassers. That, in turn, has suddenly exposed many man within venture capital and their past bad actions. This was a much needed change, and although the venture capital world and companies like Uber remain single small pockets in which the real state of things is finally being revealed, I can easily see this movement spreading and penetrating much of the rest of the tech industry. Justice Brandeis’ famous quote about sunlight (publicity) being the best disinfectant seems apt here: the more of these cases come to light, the more some of the perpetrators (like Justin Caldbeck and Dave McClure) will be moved out of roles or dumped by their employers altogether. None of this represents an overnight change, but it does feel like things are finally moving in the right direction, and those who have been protected out of a combination of fear on the part of would-be accusers and collusion on the part of colleagues are finally being exposed to some real consequences. There’s clearly a long way still to go, but breaking the wall of silence feels like a big step forward. Increasing diversity still feels like one of the most obvious ways to prevent this issue in future – at many companies, the overwhelming gender dominance of men is clearly a big part of the cultural problem, even though women seem to have protected some of those accused as well, either covering up bad behavior or dealing with it too quietly (as in the case of 500 Startups). Update: on Monday, per Axios, Dave McClure was asked to resign completely from 500 Startups, and did so, a step which should arguably have taken rather sooner.
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
Uber says its delayed report from its internal investigation into reports of harassment and other issues will finally be made public the week of June 5. The report was due to have published earlier but was pushed back when those leading the investigation said they needed more time, which seemed at the time as a sign that key personnel at Uber weren’t cooperating with the investigation. That’s going to be a busy week for news, with Apple’s WWDC keynote on the Monday, but I would guess this report will attract plenty of attention anyway. As has been the case from the start, the big question is how honest and critical the report ends up being, because if it’s anything less than forthright it will do more harm than good.
Report Shows Unfair Treatment a Major Reason for Tech Departures Among Underrepresented Groups (Apr 28, 2017)
A new report out studies the reasons why people choose to leave jobs in the tech industry, and concludes that unfair behavior or treatment was a factor for many employees, and underrepresented groups reported it was a factor at higher rates than white and male respondents. The findings are disheartening if not surprising given the prevailing narrative about diversity in tech. Women, people of color, and LGBT respondents were all likelier to report unfair treatment and to have left jobs because of it. If the industry is going to keep treating employees from these groups in this way, it’s going to continue to lose them, which is going to make increasing diversity even slower. It’s particularly striking because many employees within the industry don’t seem to think there’s a problem at all. It’s well worth reading the piece linked below for the full details of the survey.
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.
Google Details Processes but Not Data in Response to Department of Labor Accusations Over Equal Pay (Apr 11, 2017)
Last week, the Department of Labor accused Google of violating equal pay laws, in the context of an investigation into compliance as a result of Google’s work as a federal contractor. Google pushed back hard against those allegations immediately, but has now released a more detailed statement through its blog. That statement outlines the processes Google has in place to ensure fair pay, through the use of salary setting processes in which analysts calculating compensation packages don’t know the gender of the person for whom they are setting the salary, and other mechanisms to ensure fairness. What Google doesn’t do in this post is say what the current ratio of male to female pay is at the company, or share any other numbers to back up its claims, which is a bit surprising. The DoL claims to have found massive disparities in pay and systemic bias against women, so one would have thought the simplest way to rebut those accusations would be sharing some data, which Google hasn’t done publicly (though presumably feels it has done as part of the investigation). The DoL, meanwhile, continues to seek more data which Google refuses to provide, hence the lawsuit. As I said last week, given the issues over diversity and equal pay in the tech industry generally, it wouldn’t be enormously surprising to find that Google exhibited some of the same problems, but if evidence of significant issues does emerge, it would be more damaging to a company of its size than a smaller one with less of a reputation to maintain. So far, though, neither side is releasing data that would allow independent observers to draw their own conclusions.