Uber, the popular and disruptive transportation company specializing in smartphone-based ride-sharing apps, has been facing a significant degree of public backlash in recent months. While the company is no stranger to criticism, having faced over the years allegations of putting taxi drivers out of work and monetarily exploiting the transportation needs that arise from events like protests and natural disasters, new criticisms of a toxic and sexist workplace and company culture are proving to be a particularly significant obstacle for Uber to deal with.
On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, Uber hosted a press call featuring some of its top-ranking female members, including board member Arianna Huffington, to address the criticisms of an unethical corporate culture, according to TechCrunch. During the call, Huffington responded to these criticisms by acknowledging the validity of criticisms of a problematic working environment and affirming the company’s commitment to ensuring an inclusive and fair workplace. Additionally, Huffington discussed the process of finding a new COO for the company; she emphasized the necessity of finding someone who would be a good complement to current Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, and would also be effective in carrying out the change in workplace culture the company aims to enact.
Criticisms of Uber’s culture come from a variety of sources, most notably disgruntled former employees who left the company out of a sense that the social environment in which they were expected to work was unacceptable. Most notably, the company is currently the subject of a federal investigation into accusations of widespread sexual harassment against female employees. During the call, Huffington reassured the press that the company would be fully cooperative and complicit with whatever the investigation found, although she claimed that she is an independent party to the investigation.
On the topic of how Uber’s workplace culture became the way it is now, Huffington explained that the company had too heavily prioritized expanding its business over ensuring that the internal work environment grows in an effective and humane manner. Huffington claimed that, because of the company’s rapid growth over a very short period of time, the company’s culture had not had the opportunity to meet the requirements of a large-scale corporation at the rate that it was expanding. Chief HR officer Liane Hornsey also commented that CEO Travis Kalanick gave her nearly complete control over reforming the company’s culture, emphasizing his desire to form Uber into a company that not only improves its public image but becomes one of the most sought-after technology companies to work for.
The focus of the call then shifted to a discussion about the specific changes Uber was planning to make to ensure the presence of a workplace culture that was inclusive, diverse, and free from bias and discrimination. Participants of the call mentioned that they had attended over one hundred “listening sessions,” in which employees are asked to articulate their complaints about the overall culture of the workplace and offer their suggestions about how it could be improved. Additionally, Hornsey mentioned that the company would be updating the job descriptions of its more than 1,500 employees to ensure that they matched the company’s vision for a reformed culture and that they were planning on completely revamping the system by which the quality of the work performed by employees is judged. Additionally, the company told journalists that women would be involved in every step of the way in the search for a new COO and that the company would consider female candidates for the position.
Despite the company’s recent controversy, Huffington and the other participants of the call noted that the company was continuing to grow at a healthy and sustainable rate and that the business had not been strongly negatively affected by the recent issues. Given the disruptive and innovative nature of the service Uber provides, it’s safe to say that the company’s success will continue to be fairly resilient to controversy into the future.
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