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Uber forced to deal with aggressive workplace culture

The popular ride sharing company Uber has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, most recently for a string of concerns and accusations about the company’s workplace culture.

Uber, which has been valued at nearly $70 billion and operates in more than 70 countries, promotes an internal “meritocracy,” emphasizing that those who standout will rise through the ranks.

According to both current and former Uber employees, this has resulted in an environment  in which workers are often pitted against one another and infractions from top performers are ignored.

A report by the New York Times, based upon interviews with more than 30 current and former Uber employees, as well as reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings, offered a shocking account of “an often unrestrained workplace culture.” The accusations from employees, who either witnessed or were subject to incidents and requested anonymity from the Times because of confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation, cover a wide range of incidents: One prominent Uber manager groped female co-workers’ breasts at a company retreat in Las Vegas. A director targeted a homophobic slur at an employee during a meeting. Another manager threatened to cave an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat.

Uber’s workplace culture was, for a long time, something of an open secret around Silicon Valley. But then, Susan Fowler, an engineer who left Uber in December, published a blog post about her time at the company, which quickly went viral online. In her post, Fowler detailed a slew of discriminatory acts and sexual harassment by her managers. She said her claims was ignored by Uber’s human resources department. Fowler suggested that the culture was stoked — and even enabled — by Uber’s executives.

“It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor’s job,” Fowler wrote. “No attempts were made by these managers to hide what they were doing: They boasted about it in meetings, told their direct reports about it, and the like.”

Uber’s founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick, has opened an internal investigation into Fowler’s accusations and has brought in board member Arianna Huffington and former attorney general Eric Holder to investigate harassment issues within the company and the human resources department.

In an internal memo distributed last week, Kalanick said that 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. He compared these figures to Google’s 18 percent, Facebook’s 17 percent and Twitter’s 10 percent. He promised to publish a more extensive diversity report in the coming months.

Liane Hornsey, Uber’s chief human resources officer, said in a statement, “We are totally committed to healing wounds of the past and building a better workplace culture for everyone.”

Uber currently faces at least three lawsuits in at least two countries from former employees who are alleging sexual harassment or verbal abuse at the hands of managers, according to legal documents reviewed by the New York Times. Other current and former employees told the Times they were considering legal action against the company.

Several employees who went to human resources with their problems reported that they were often ignored. Fowler said human resources frequently made excuses for top performers within the company because of their ability to help the business’ bottom-line. Occasionally, managers who were the subject of numerous complaints were shuffled around to different regions. Apparently, firings were uncommon.

At a company retreat in late 2015 in Las Vegas, where Uber hired Beyoncé to perform at the rooftop bar of the Palms Hotel, a rash of incident took place. In addition to copious amounts of drinking and gambling, Uber employees allegedly used cocaine in the bathrooms at private parties and a manager groped several female employees. (The manager was fired within 12 hours on the incident.) One employee also hijacked a private shuttle bus, filled it with friends and took it for a joy ride, attendees of the party told the Times.

Some employees are still hopeful that Uber can change. Kalanick apologized to employees at a meeting last week for leading the company and the culture to this point. “What I can promise you is that I will get better every day,” he said. “I can tell you that I am authentically and fully dedicated to getting to the bottom of this.”

Internal-Memo-From-Travis-Kalanick

 

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