Uber bad behavior

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

                                                            King James Bible, 1Corinthians13:11

Uber, the precocious technology disrupter, is growing up and with it comes the usual pre-pubescent growing pains. But in Uber’s case, the pains appear to be self-inflicted and no amount of hopping around on one leg is loosening the cramps.

The San Francisco-based ride-sharing app has confirmed that at least 20 employees, including some senior executives, have been fired after an independent investigation uncovered hundreds of incidents of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, bullying, and any number of other cases of crude and borderline criminal behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated in junior high, let alone a professional environment populated by alleged adults.

Here’s the breakdown of 215 complaints of “inappropriate workplace instances” investigated by the law firm Perkins Coie, for those keeping score: 54 discrimination complaints, 47 for sexual harassment, 45 for unprofessional behavior, 33 for bullying, 13 for retaliation, 19 for “other” harassment, three for physical security, and one for wrongful termination. In addition to the 20 employees who were terminated, another 31 are undergoing training to change their behavior. Phew.

All that before a report from a deeper probe into the company’s workplace culture by former Attorney General Eric Holder is released next week. That report had also been scheduled to be publicly unveiled this week but was delayed after a sailing accident over Memorial Day weekend killed CEO Travis Kalanick’s mother and seriously injured his father.

The terminations were revealed Tuesday to Uber’s 12,000 employees in an “all-hands” meeting at the company’s headquarters. But some say those meetings, which are becoming more frequent, are more p.r. than mea culpa.

“Uber has been here many times before, responding to public exposure of bad behavior by holding an all-hands meeting, apologizing and vowing to change, only to quickly return to aggressive business as usual,” Mitch and Freada Kapor, two longtime Uber investors, wrote in an open letter earlier this year. “We are concerned that the company will try to manage its way past this crisis and then go back to business as usual.”

The Kapors’ letter was in response to a blistering critique of the corporate culture by former Uber executive Susan Fowler, who said her complaints of sexual harassment were dismissed by the human resources department as a first-time offense and that the harasser had a bright future with the company.

Kalanick, who once referred to his company as “Boob-er” for its ability to increase his ability to meet women, scrambled to seize the narrative, giving a tearful apology and vowing to do better. He hired former Apple executive Bozoma Saint John as branding executive, instantly making her the highest-ranking black employee as well as a high-profile female, and this week Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei took over full-time as vice president of leadership and strategy.

“It’s grown so quickly in such a short amount of time — and leadership and others have been so focused on growing the business — that this very moment is about changing the image of Uber and crafting what that brand story is,” Saint John said about her hiring. “That hasn’t been done yet.”

Uber’s not the first tech company facing charges of misogyny in its ranks. The industry is wrought with discrimination against women with the frat boy mentality often competing with intellect in the corporate suites.

But no one is shedding any tears for Uber, saying the reckless actions are endemic to a culture that pushes boundaries with little regard for consequences. There’s also a question if corporate executives really get it. Just the day before the Perkins Coie report was released and the firings happened, Liane Hornsey, Uber’s new chief human resources officer, said she conducted “listening tours” and has determined that pay and pride rather than sexism were the biggest problems. Well, 20 fired former employees might disagree.

“This is enormous,” Debra Katz, a lawyer with a Washington-based firm specializing in sexual harassment claims against companies, told the Washington Post. “For corporate allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct to lead to firing 20 people, I know of no comparable corporate action … This is a significant action by Uber to give a strong message to take these actions seriously [and also] seems to suggest that they cannot simply say it’s only a few bad apples here.”



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