What Can Uber’s Culture Mistakes Teach Your Business?

Uber has been in the news a lot lately, and not for its disruptive business model. There have been accusations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, inappropriate use of user data, and theft of intellectual property. The cherry on top was a video of CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver. The company has made a big deal of overhauling its leadership and culture in recent months, but there are some important lessons that your own business can learn from Uber’s mistakes.

Mismanaging Harassment And Discrimination Claims

Susan Fowler, a former engineer with Uber, released a statement on her personal blog in early 2017 that described systemic sexual harassment. Fowler claimed that Uber’s HR department downplayed multiple attempts to report harassment. She claims HR told her to keep things to herself because her male boss would likely give her a poor performance review if she made waves and it would impact her ability to advance in the company.

Fowler’s post went viral in short order, reigniting public focus on gender discrimination in the tech sector. Businesses – whether they are in tech or not –  must take claims of discrimination and harassment seriously from the outset. HR teams should never encourage employees to just accept potential harassment as a fact of life in your organization. It is critical to develop legally compliant protocols that are fair for both the accuser and the accused, while also protecting the company from potential lawsuits down the line.

Don’t Throw Fuel On the Fire

As the board met to discuss overhauling Uber’s culture on the heels of the Fowler incident and several other problems, Arianna Huffington – the first woman on Uber’s board – announced that Nestlé executive Wan Ling Martello would be joining the board as the second female member, prompting this recorded exchange:

Huffington: 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.

Board member David Bonderman:  I’ll tell you what it shows, is that there’s much more likely to be more talking on the board.

Huffington: (Awkward laugh) Oh. Come on, David. Don’t worry, David will have a lot more talking to do as well.

This exchange immediately went viral, prompting another round of bad press regarding Uber’s treatment and attitudes towards women, and Bonderman resigned shortly thereafter. While Bonderman seems to have thought he was making a joke; it actually showed a serious level of tone deafness at Uber’s gender problem.  It is critical for companies to understand how their employees and the public view their culture, and to insist that everyone from the highest levels of leadership through entry-level employees understand that their words and actions do matter.

Culture Isn’t About Perks

Uber is famous for providing next-generation perks to its staff, but these mistakes show that culture is about more than kegerators, catered lunches and comfy chill-out rooms. It’s about the way people feel about their employer. They want to be valued and respected and they want their work to mean something. When thinking about overhauling your own culture, respect and worker satisfaction is the best place to begin.

If you are looking for highly-skilled IT professionals who can enhance your company culture, reach out to the award-winning recruiting experts at Talon today. We can match you with the people who have the skills and the character to succeed.


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