UBER: Driving Their Own Downfall & The Road To Redemption
Scandals have followed Uber all year, but has it jeopardised its own position in the tech industry, and if so can it be saved?
Read Time: 5 Mins
After a controversial year, Uber has been trying to mend what’s left of its disgraced reputation. A company that once held the title as the top ride-sharing service is now caught in the middle of unending scandals. And although negative publicity has circulated around Uber for already quite some time, 2017 was certainly a defining year.
The backlash began after a former employee, Susan Fowler, published a blog post online revealing the true nature of Uber’s work environment. She shed light on the company’s rampant sexual harassment issues and human resources negligence. It illustrated the problem of ‘bro-culture’, and an industry that values men’s roles in a company more than the well-being of women. But Fowler was not alone in her experience. Her post led to an outpour of similar stories by other women with passengers also reporting sexual assault. This ultimately forced Uber to re-evaluate its toxic company culture.
Following the accusations, Uber launched an internal investigation into the claims. Over 200 cases of unprofessional and sexist behaviour were reported. As a result, more than 20 employees – including several top executives – were fired. Uber intended to show that they were taking accountability for their actions. They wanted to demonstrate that they don’t align with the systemic sexism taking place in halls of their very own buildings. On top of that, Uber pledged to provide donations to organisations that push for diversity in the tech industry.
But sexual harassment allegations are only one part of the chaotic year Uber has endured. Legal battles with Google over the alleged theft of technology and even leaked video of CEO Travis Kalanik arguing with an Uber driver added more controversy. And in hopes to further reshape its image, Kalanik resigned. But is all of this enough for them to make amends for their actions? How far will this negative stigma affect Uber’s future?
In many ways, the damage has already been done. Uber’s reputation both within the company and amongst the tech community has taken a major blow. Businesses that want to uphold their own reputation for diversity and acceptance choose to keep their distance from collaboration with Uber. Take for example Black Girls Code, a non-profit that aims to teach tech skills to African-American girls. They were one of the organisations that Uber offered to donate money ($125,000) towards but instead they turned it down. It comes to show that trust and respect in Uber has been heavily undermined. The money was seen more as a PR stunt rather than a sincere gesture. But it is not only organisations that have turned their back on Uber. Just this September London chose to not renew their Uber licence.
But this hasn’t been the only challenge Uber has had to confront. In fact, the result of a damaged reputation has been much greater. This refers to the problem of attracting top talent and retaining existing employees. The company doesn’t give the impression that it’s a place that welcomes women. And for the foreseeable future, it will continue to be difficult for Uber to rehabilitate its reputation in the tech industry. Women have already vocalized their further resentment towards the company on social media, posting their rejections of Uber’s recruitment attempts. The company’s values do not reflect that of their own.
In the end, Uber will have to go above and beyond if they hope to prove that they’re committed to making a positive impact in the tech industry. The concept of Uber is important, it provides a means of transportation for thousands at a decent price. It should be a great company, but it’s behaviour cannot be overlooked. Of course, no single solution will definitely do the trick. But Uber can take certain steps to regain trust and public confidence once again…
Bring More Women to Top-level Positions
The resignation of the CEO was a bold yet necessary move by Uber. Kalanik was the face of the company, and he represented an unapologetic and aggressive leadership. Since his leave, a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has been appointed. And with the hiring of a new CEO calls for the implementation of a new company practice. And what exactly should that entail? Simple, more women in top-level positions. Now, these women shouldn’t just be qualified for the job, but they must also want to prioritise equality within the company. The agenda must include the dissemination of the toxic ‘bro culture,’ and to bring in new perspective which will hopefully push Uber in the right direction. By having this alternative mentality start at the top, it’ll then trickle down into the rest of the company. Such a move would show how Uber is committed to diversifying. And this diversification should also been seen across the company as a whole. Progress is possible but needs to start from within.
External Diversity Programmes
Rather than just throwing money at organisations who are trying to improve diversity in the tech industry, Uber should be part of that change. Many organisations don’t want to be associated with a company that fails to promote a safe and tolerant company culture. Organisations like Black Women Code, and even UN Women, have rejected or stopped partnership with Uber in protest. So, Uber should aim to establish programmes that encourage women to enter the tech industry. There is a clear lack of female representation in more technical positions. And certainly while hiring women is important right now, it is also about creating a new generation. Any big, profitable company can donate money to an organisation, but actual involvement in the process is what stands out. And that’s how the company could really reinvent themselves: Showing active dedication to a cause.
Sophie van Wersch recently graduated with honors from the University College of Maastricht with a B.A., and majored in International Politics and Sociology. During her time at university she concentrated on the ways in which technology played a part in political events, and society as a whole. Since graduating, she has taken time off to prioritise her online courses in both computer science, and social media management. Although having majored in more of a political study, she intends to build a career in the video game industry - specifically, project management and/or the social media management of video games.
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