Thanks to the recent conclusion of an internal investigation into the culture and policies at Uber, the company’s infamous CEO Travis Kalanick has decided to take a leave of absence from the beleaguered corporation. We have explored some of Mr. Kalanick’s and Uber’s struggles before here at Liberty Nation, and it finally seems that real change is coming. After months of negative press, legal setbacks, and personal controversy, will the results of the report and the temporary departure of Kalanick be enough to turn this behemoth around?
The long-awaiting findings of the internal investigation, headed up by none other than former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, solidifies the theories previously postulated as the cause of Uber’s struggles: that toxic leadership at the highest levels trickled down and permeated every level of the company. The full report is available on SCRIBD courtesy of CNBC, and the twelve-page report makes for some interesting reading. The document’s forty-seven recommendations could double as a “what not to do” guide for booming startups. First and foremost among the suggestions? Review and reallocate the responsibilities of Travis Kalanick. Thanks in part to this scathing condemnation of his leadership, Kalanick has stepped down as CEO, turning over the daily operations of the company to a fourteen-member committee of senior leaders. Some analysts believe that he may never return, either on his own volition, or because the board will ultimately fire him.
Ironically, the reveal of the report itself was not without its own scandal. Proving that truth is stranger than fiction, during the very event that was supposed to herald a shift away from gender bias and discrimination, a board member doubled down on the existing company culture. Interrupting female board member Arianna Huffington during her presentation, fellow board member David Bonderman uttered this gem, according to Bloomberg:
“There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” Huffington said, according to a person who heard the exchange but was not authorized to discuss it. “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking,” Bonderman said. Among the Uber employees in the room, there were audible gasps and blank stares, according to another person at the meeting.
Bonderman stepped down from his role on the board after this faux pas. One more bad apple is thrown out. How many more to go?
The recommendations by Holder and his team include standard fare corporate reform bits, such as creating an oversight committee for the board, or better human resources record-keeping. There are also some amusingly basic recommendations that indicate the scope of the boys-club culture, such as recommendations to reduce the alcohol budget for company events, to explicitly prohibit the use of controlled substances during “core business hours,” and to ban romantic relationships between a manager and their direct reports. However, the former Obama administration lawyer could not resist slipping in a few progressive agenda items as well. The report encourages Uber to select Chief Operating Officer candidates who not only have experience in diversity but “who are themselves diverse.” Another recommendation is to tie executive compensation and even continuing employment to diversity goals, as well as regularly publishing diversity statistics. Also included is a proposal for mandatory training to help executive combat their “implicit and unconscious bias.” It would appear that Holder’s goal is that Uber mimic a college campus, complete with affirmative action, safe spaces, and making everyone aware of their microaggressions.
Whether or not any meaningful change happens at Uber remains to be seen, but with the departure of several toxic leaders, including the CEO, the possibility is looking increasingly likely. Will Uber transform itself into a leftist poster-child for inclusiveness and diversity? Alternatively, will the company simply join its peers in the mainstream business world where embarrassing headlines do not mar the company’s image on a weekly basis? Either way, it looks like Uber may finally be throwing off the controversy that surrounded its growth.