Uber is under fire after a former engineer made headlines for publishing a detailed account of her experiences with sexual harassment — and Uber executives not addressing it. The timing seems particularly awful for Uber, which just lost 200,000 customers for the way it handled President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. But Uber has been one of the few holdouts not tackling the problems of diversity and inclusion that ail much of Silicon Valley. Now, the company has to pay for it.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick quickly responded to former engineer Susan Fowler’s claims that her supervisor made sexual advances toward her, and that the behavior went unchecked when she reported it to human resources. Kalanick called sexual harassment “abhorrent” on Twitter and then sent a memo to employees Monday announcing that the company was assembling a legal investigation into Fowler’s claims, spearheaded by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Fowler’s post seems to have triggered an about-face in Uber’s approach to claims of the company’s wrongdoing, unearthing a new company mission to root out “injustice.”
“I believe in creating a workplace where a deep sense of justice underpins everything we do,” Kalanick wrote in his memo to employees. “It is my number one priority that we come through this a better organization, where we live our values and fight for and support those who experience injustice.”
Kalanick’s justice-focused position also promised to look into the “many questions about the gender diversity of Uber’s technology teams.”
But the toxic culture Fowler described at Uber isn’t news. While Kalanick has previously denounced drivers’ acts of violence against women, the CEO has also made misogynistic comments. In a GQ profile, Kalanick referred to the company as “Boober” to denote how his success has helped his sex life.
During Uber’s rise, there have been sexist ad campaigns and executives suggesting the company should “dig” into a journalist’s personal life for criticizing Uber’s culture. Uber brushed off criticism that the company was violating customers’ privacy with its “God View” capabilities, and fought the unionization of and granting employee-status and fair pay for drivers — many of whom are immigrants and people of color.
So while it’s not brand new that Uber suffers diversity issues, the sexual harassment allegations could push the ride-sharing app to be more transparent. In the past, Uber has been one of the few tech companies that hasn’t released a diversity report, refusing to acknowledge requests for more transparency.
In January, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, which pressured Google to be the first tech giant to release its diversity report, urged Kalanick to reveal Uber’s demographic breakdown of employees, leadership, and new hires. Uber refused Jackson’s and the coalition’s request for 2015 data last year.
But following Fowler’s blog post, Uber might change course. Kalanick revealed in his memo to employees that the company’s number of female technical employees hasn’t budged.
“If you look across our engineering, product management, and scientist roles, 15.1% of employees are women and this has not changed substantively in the last year,” he wrote. “[Human resources head Liane Hornsey] and I will be working to publish a broader diversity report for the company in the coming months.”
But if Kalanick is dedicated to ridding the company of “injustices,” there’s a lot of material to work with.