In the wake of sexual harassment and fundamental employee mismanagement allegations detailed by a female engineer, thousands of people are deleting Uber from their smartphones in protest. Again.
It’s a nice gesture, but will probably have very little impact on Uber’s bottom line. This is a global company after all, and I think it’s safe to assume that most of those deleting Uber are in the U.S. The #DeleteUber movement gives you that temporary rush of “There. Now I’ve really done something!” until you realize that the last time we all did #DeleteUber over Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s involvement with President Donald Trump, just 200,000 people (out of an estimated 40 million monthly uniques) dropped the service.
Plus, the protest probably hurts individual drivers just trying to make a living far more than it does Kalanick. Its obvious, at least to me, what should happen here.
Fire Travis Kalanick
I know this is heresy in our founder-obsessed tech society, but the bro culture that fostered an environment where a manager can proposition a female employee without consequence must trace directly back to the top.
Kalanick always struck me as someone who didn’t give a damn. He’s smart, brash and disruptive. He once famously called taxi drivers “assholes” and telegraphed to current Uber drivers that, thanks to self-driving cars, they would soon no longer be necessary. We know he sat idly while one of his lieutenants suggested people dig up dirt on a female journalist, and, yes, he reportedly joked that he calls women on demand “Boob-er.”
If Kalanick was just the douchey face of an otherwise smart and well-run company that would be one thing. But if you get nothing else from Susan Fowler Rigetti’s (who goes by Susan J. Fowler on her personal website) damning blog post detailing Uber’s sexism problem, it should be the picture of an organization that values certain high-performers over everything else, including basic decency.
Its hard to see this pervasive attitude as anyone but Kalanicks fault. If you cut off the head, the body can function at least temporarily.
Find a new CEO
I do believe in what Uber does. I just take issue with some of how it does it. A new leader, especially if its one who represents diversity oh hell, I’ll just say it, a woman should run that company. There are many qualified C-level women who could do the job. Take Ursula Burns, the 58-year-old former Xerox CEO who may be stepping down from the recently split company. Or what about current YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki? Someone should compile a complete list and send it to Uber’s board.
One person I don’t want in the driver’s seat is Arianna Huffington, who is actually the board member personally involved in investigating Fowler Rigetti’s accusations. On paper, she’s a perfect fit: digitally engaged, forward-leaning, understands the Uber consumer and she’s already on Ubers board. And that’s the problem. Huffington joined the board in April 2016. Everyone on that board is as culpable as Kalanick in this mess.
The fact that she’s suddenly out front, promising to hold Uber’s “feet to the fire” only makes it worse. Where was she for the last 12 months? An argument can be made that the board didn’t know about the everyday sexism, but if that’s the case, that’s even more of a sign Uber needs a shakeup. At the very least Huffington needs to step forward and say that finding a new CEO is the boards number one priority.
Purge offending managers
I know the manager who allegedly propositioned Fowler Rigetti is long gone (as is she from Uber), but considering the shenanigans she described (mid-level managers withholding intel so they could use it to leapfrog their own managers), a serious reorg is in order.
Uber could start by taking a hard look at anyone Kalanick hired directly since they probably revere the CEO and his perspectives on technology, women and business.
Fire the entire Human Resources department
An HR department focused almost entirely on protecting managers and the bottom line above employees as a whole is no HR department at all.
What Fowler Rigetti describes is unconscionable. She (and other co-workers) had multiple interactions with the department, trying to get them to do anything about their series of management and sexual harassment complaints. But HR became the land of no. Incompetency is one thing. Blatant disregard for peoples emotional well-being is another.
Rewrite Uber’s sexual harassment policies and post them online
What Uber desperately needs right now is transparency. I have no idea what kinds of policies were in place when Fowler Rigetti was employed there, but they were obviously ignored by her manager and the HR department.
A new document, possibly written by someone outside Uber, will partially help change the culture and posting it publicly will encourage enforcement and compliance.
I doubt any of these things will happen at Uber. People cant imagine Uber without its visionary leader, Kalanick and, at best, well see some surgical expulsions of managers and human resources employees. There will be no reorg or department reboots. Kalanick will continue to well-up and appear contrite, Uber will make small changes and the problem will probably fester and regrow because no one was willing to tear it out by its roots.
If Uber truly wants to save itself, though, it’s board should seriously consider my suggestions.