Since Sunday, when a widely circulated account from a former company engineer shed light on an alleged culture of harassment and HR failure within Uber, senior leadership at the ride-hailing giant, most notably CEO Travis Kalanick, have been falling all over themselves in fits of public contrition. At an all-hands meeting with staff this week, Kalanick even got the waterworks going: "Uber's chief executive officer, at times with tears in his eyes, apologized for a lack of diversity in the company's workforce and for not properly responding to employee complaints," wrote Bloomberg, "while those in attendance lobbed tough, pointed questions, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters." Be nice to Travis, guys.
Now, Susan Fowler's details of a workplace culture in which a "high performing" employee was allegedly given plenty of strikes despite repeated accusations of harassment is echoed in a New York Times piece about the company's "unrestrained" corporate culture. Many sources told the paper that "human resources often made excuses for top performers because of their ability to improve the health of the business." From the report:
Interviews with more than 30 current and former Uber employees, as well as reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings, paint a picture of an often unrestrained workplace culture. Among the most egregious accusations from employees, who either witnessed or were subject to incidents and who asked to remain anonymous because of confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation: One Uber manager groped female co-workers’ breasts at a company retreat in Las Vegas. A director shouted a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a heated confrontation in a meeting. Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat.
Rather than deny these horrible, but from a journalistic stance, home-run anecdotes, Liane Hornsey, Uber’s chief human resources officer, told the paper in a statement that “We are totally committed to healing wounds of the past and building a better workplace culture for everyone." Kalanick has former Attorney General Eric Holder investigating the allegations, and Arianna Huffington, who is a board member and a woman, says she'll monitor that as well, holding the company's "feet to the fire," so case closed, right?
Recode meanwhile is asking just how much can really be done when Kalanick himself has been the alpha alpha bro, the progenitor of the company's "bros ask forgiveness, not permission" ethos. More specifically, one tenet of the company, we learn from the Times piece, is "Always be hustlin'," which, in a truly cruel instance of workplace harassment, is a statement employees are forces to cosign as one of their guiding principles.
"Kalanick has done douche as a tactic very well indeed," Recode writes, "which is one big reason the company grew so aggressively. As with all startups, the company’s DNA is usually set by its founders, and his swaggering tone seeped into the culture, where it then was magnified and went viral."
Here's that going viral, from the Times:
Uber’s aggressive workplace culture spilled out at a global all-hands meeting in late 2015 in Las Vegas, where the company hired Beyoncé to perform at the rooftop bar of the Palms Hotel. Between bouts of drinking and gambling, Uber employees used cocaine in the bathrooms at private parties, said three attendees, and a manager groped several female employees. (The manager was terminated within 12 hours.) One employee hijacked a private shuttle bus, filled it with friends and took it for a joy ride, the attendees said.
One positive outcome, at least, of Uber's very public mea culpa is that the company is releasing diversity figures it had previously withheld, although seemingly with the purpose of refuting Fowler's account of a dive in the number of women at the company "15.1 percent of Uber’s engineering, product management and scientist roles were filled by women, and that those numbers had not changed substantively over the past year," Uber said according to the Times.
Finally, fearing a #deleteuber scenario sequel, Uber is also addressing its contrition to those who would abandon the app: