Uber Chaos, and How to Fix It

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Background

The tech world is awash this week in phrases like “sexual harassment,” “toxic values,” and “#DeleterUber” after a blistering blog post from Susan J. Fowler went viral on Sunday night. The post describes the sexual harassment that Fowler experienced during her year working at the transportation company. And it has exploded everywhere, from BuzzFeed and TechCrunch to Recode, Vox, and Huffington Post.

Where the Problems Come From

As with any environment where sexism and discrimination exist, it all goes back to the corporate culture. And so to solve systemic issues, one must deal with the corporate culture. While the most incendiary aspects of Fowler’s post deal with sexual harassment and her experiences trying to report it, the harassment — which I will discuss in a moment — is but the symptom of a larger corporate issue of sexism.

  1. A weak and ineffective HR department with no real power.
  2. The evaluation of women through a prism of prejudice.

Ineffective and Reactive Corporate Mentality

As with most corporations, it is clear from Fowler’s post that Uber prioritized “high performance” and bottom line-data points over an egalitarian work environment. Time and again, Fowler describes reporting issues to mid-level and upper management, and receiving the typical — but completely inadequate response — of “well he’s a high performer,” or some such phrase.

HR with No Real Power

Fowler goes on to write in her post that she was told by upper management that they would not feel comfortable punishing the sexual harasser. This reveals three new things:

  1. HR is not seen as contributing to the fiscal bottom line.
  2. As a result, upper management essentially makes all of HR’s decisions, and HR is essentially powerless. Given this, is it any wonder that HR told Fowler that they were not prepared to do anything?
  1. Uber’s concern for the sexual harasser’s “high performance” was more important than Fowler’s right to work in a workplace free of sexual harassment.

A Vicious Cycle

It is clear from Ms. Fowler’s article that the sexual harassment did not exist in a vacuum. It was facilitated by sex discrimination throughout the corporation. I’m no statistician, but a diminution of women in the corporation from 25% to 6% would not seem to be explained by a suggestion that all those women left for better jobs or were inadequate performers. Especially in a universe where managers feel empowered to tell women that the corporation will buy leather jackets for the male employees but not for the female employees, it seems more likely than not that at least part of the reason for the reduction in female employees was caused by sexist attitudes in the corporation.

Meltdown and How to Fix It

The response to Fowler’s blog post, in words at least, has been biblical. Coverage from all the major tech media sources, as well as incendiary tweets from a variety of high-powered individuals in the tech community. If Fowler hadn’t already been working at Stripe, she likely would have found her email inbox flooded with job offers this morning (my guess is that happened anyway).

  1. Kalanick and Huffington need to restructure the corporate mentality so that HR is not viewed as a drag on the company’s bottom line, but instead is seen as saving the company money by resolving these issues before they make their way into the public eye.
  2. Kalanick and the Uber board need to make it crystal clear that diversity and harassment seminars are mandatory, not simply suggested, and they should attend those seminars personally.

How Other Companies Can Be Proactive

Corporations at the highest level — and that means CEO’s — need to make it clear that sex discrimination and by extension sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They need to do this by not only saying so, but by acting so. They should give real power to HR departments to deal with sex discrimination and sexual harassment without the participation or approval of line management.

Master Relationship Builder & Networking Consultant 🚀 | prev. CEO @glipple | Published @crunchbasenews, @Startup Grind, @Mattermark| Humorist & music addict

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