Uber’s sexism scandal doesn’t want to leave the headlines, and the issue seems to be internal, external, in the media…everywhere. Numerous outlets are reported leaks, not to mention open employee discussions on social media and even industry forums talking about how deep the ‘boys club’ culture goes in the rideshare giant. As the nightmare continues, senior engineer Amit Singhal, has mysteriously left the business, only a few weeks after joining, as news came to light that his former employment at Google was terminated after sexual harassment claims.
Of course, the issue here has less to do with the allegations themselves, than how Travis Kalanick’s senior executives handled them. As seemingly serious scenarios, worthy of action played out, such as engineers wearing T-shirts with naked women on them, and female employees being exposed to highly sexualised remarks by colleagues and superiors alike, senior Uber executives reportedly responded with disdain and even mockery by. As momentum grows, more and more former employees are taking to social media and blog posts to tell of their own experiences, although it should be noted that in a vast majority of cases, these are as yet unsubstantiated.
But as the outpouring continues, public sentiment is turning against Uber, and members the business community as well as woman’s rights groups have spoken out against the lack of action taken, if not immediately following an incident, then as more came to light.
It may be that Uber, like so many others has become confused over its corporate obligations following an exponential growth curve. Where in a smaller business, human resources issues don’t take precedence, when a business has a large internal ecosystem with diverse employees, structures and rules are brought in as a legislative standard in order to avoid situations just like this. However, if there is no buy in from the business, which seems to have been the case with Uber, then all the rules in the world won’t make a middle manager tell one of the boys that he shouldn’t wear a t-shirt with a naked woman on it, and a senior executive isn’t likely to give priority to a junior staff member who just wants her boss to stop talking to her in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable. Because in the end, the problem at Uber seems to be the old attitude of, “that’s how we do it here,” and when the world is watching, as they most certainly now are, Travis Kalanick is going to have to do far more, and move more quickly that to simply announce a “full enquiry,” as he’s done. And token appointments to stamp out the culture of male chauvinism will mean nothing if he doesn’t stay on the front foot and deride the treatment of woman, take responsibility for changes and lead the charge for Uber to become a bastion of equality and freedom.
But the question is surely being asked by the board, is Kalanick the right person for the job? With a reputation for being aggressive and having a temper, he has been responsible for his fair share of controversy over Uber’s lifetime, and while that may have been useful in the past, Kalanick hasn’t been able to make the transition from effective start-up leader, to mature CEO.
Whether he can make that change now, will have huge ramifications, not only for himself, but also Uber.