Uber has spent much of this year dealing with allegations of widespread gender discrimination and having a toxic workplace culture.
Ironically, it could eventually become the tech industry’s standard bearer for diversity and inclusion.
That’s the hope of Freada Kapor Klein, a well-known diversity advocate and founder of the Kapor Center who was an early investor in the ride-hailing company. Uber’s decision last Sunday to embrace wide-scale changes to its management structure, hiring practices and workplace could make it a leader in the industry, she said.
“I think it’d be quite ironic if Uber took all of this to heart and implemented it in a rigorous way,” Kapor Klein said in an interview with Business Insider. “It could change the tech sector and be that standard.”
But the $US69 billion company faces a long and hard road ahead, she said.
“I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, but I’m rooting for them,” Kapor Klein said.
Uber has been reeling since February when a former engineer published a widely read blog post that accused the company of pervasive sexism. The engineer’s claims prompted Uber to launch an independent investigation into its workplace culture.
That investigation led to a report that recommended 47 different changes Uber could make to turn its workplace into one that is more inclusive and diverse and more responsive to complaints from employees. Uber’s board agreed to adopt all of the recommendations, which ranged from curtailing CEO Travis Kalanick’s power to moderating the company’s aggressive written values.
Kapor Klein and her husband Mitch Kapor have been among Uber’s loudest critics. A few days after the engineer published her post, the Silicon Valley power couple released an open letter of their own, criticising the company. They charged that Uber for years had ignored investors who had been working behind the scenes to encourage it to change its culture.
Now that she’s read the full 13-page report detailing the recommendations Uber agreed to, Kapor Klein said it lays out a difficult road for the company. But if it was easy for companies to eliminate sexism and offer more inclusive and equal workplaces, more would have already done it, she said.
“It’s very hard to put guard rails on behaviour that has made you successful,” she said. “And many people have pointed to the kind of hyper-aggressiveness in business is to some extent what’s accounted for Uber’s success.”
Still, Kapor Klein is hopeful Uber will navigate the challenge. But in order for it to “leapfrog” ahead, it’s going to need some space away from the scrutiny of the press and public, she said. She’d like to see people “stop piling on” Uber.
“Everyone has been out there looking for the next big scoop,” Kapor Klein said. “You get up every morning and steel yourself for what’s going to be revealed today.”
At the same time, though, she’d like to see broader attention paid to what’s wrong with tech culture overall.
“We’ve always believed that Uber’s problems, while extreme, are not different in kind from those of the majority of large tech firms,” she and her husband said in a statement. “We have watched as senior, visible people in the larger tech ecosystem excuse the reprehensible behaviour of some individuals, and we have observed the pattern of passing around bad actors from company to company.
“This holds the entire sector back.”
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