Issue of the week: Uber’s toxic work environment
The wheels may finally be coming off Uber’s “unchecked, hyperalpha culture,” said Marco della Cava, Jessica Guynn, and Jon Swartz in USA Today. Susan Fowler, a former engineer with the ride-hailing giant, wrote an explosive blog post last month detailing the sexist treatment she allegedly received during her year with the firm. On her first day at Uber, she wrote, her manager propositioned her on the company’s chat system. She said she complained to human resources, but they refused to act because the manager was “a high performer.” Fowler was told to expect a poor performance review if she stayed on his team and didn’t reassign herself; she left the firm in December. Since Fowler went public, stories have begun to emerge of a company that can be deeply hostile to women. The firm is no stranger to controversy—battling regulators, rivals, and the press on its way to a $70 billion valuation—but Uber’s usual strategy of “ignore and proceed” might not be enough this time.
Aggression is in Uber’s DNA, said Mike Isaac in The New York Times. New employees are asked to subscribe to 14 core company values, which declare that “the best idea always wins. Don’t sacrifice truth for social cohesion.” But this push for the best has created what current and former employees describe as a Hobbesian atmosphere, “where workers are sometimes pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers.” One manager allegedly groped several female employees at an infamous company retreat in 2015 in Las Vegas. Another time, a different manager “threatened to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat.” Uber is now in full-on damage control, with CEO Travis Kalanick apologizing to employees for the company’s culture at an emotional all-hands meeting last week.
“The public is not happy with Uber,” said Alison Griswold in Qz.com. Fowler’s allegations have reignited the viral #DeleteUber campaign, which sprang up in January after the company was accused of trying to disrupt a New York taxi worker strike against President Trump’s travel ban. Now when users go to delete the Uber app, they’re met with a message pleading with them not to, saying the company is “deeply hurting” and working to fix its problems.
Don’t expect Uber to change much after its “latest self-imposed black eye,” said Daniel Gross in Slate.com. It’s always dangerous for brands to get on the wrong side of public opinion. But “if you sour on Chipotle, you can easily find another lunch next door or across the street.” Uber, though, is more like a utility. Sure, there are other ride-hailing apps, but Uber is so ubiquitous, easy to use, and enmeshed in its customers’ daily habits that it’s not easy for users to quit without going through a major hassle. Utilities may not be popular—it’s almost an obligation to loathe your cable provider—but they “have remarkably durable business models.”