Uber representatives vowed Tuesday that the company was in the midst of an overhaul, following a pile-up of scandals and shake-ups that have plagued the company for the past several weeks — including allegations of sexism and mismanagement, the departure of the company’s president and a flare-up by CEO Travis Kalanick caught on an Uber driver’s dash camera.
“Uber must change,” said board member Arianna Huffington, “if it is to be as successful in the next decade as it has in the last seven years.” The sole woman on Uber’s board repeatedly emphasized that, going forward, there would be “zero tolerance for anything but totally respectful behavior in an equitable workplace environment.”
Huffington hosted a call with reporters along with the company’s new chief HR officer, Liane Hornsey, and Rachel Holt, who heads Uber’s business in the U.S. and Canada. All three issued full-throated admissions that the company has big problems that are being rooted out in various areas, including Kalanick’s leadership, the way the company operates internally and how the company treats its drivers.
When asked repeatedly if the board had considered asking Kalanick to step down — and whether he would step down if asked — Huffington dismissed that as a hypothetical, saying “It hasn’t come up and we don’t expect it to come up.” The Uber representatives also said that Kalanick, who has been as famous for his brash style as for spearheading the growth of the ride app industry, is changing “almost week by week.”
“Going through what we’ve gone through over the last few weeks,” said Hornsey, who was a longtime Google employee before taking up the HR reins at Uber, “it’s absolutely something that would cause individual and personal change. So I think Travis is going to be hugely collaborative going forward.”
Hornsey added that Kalanick has accepted responsibility for bringing the company to this point and has acknowledged his mistakes. Earlier in March, Kalanick admitted he had to “grow up” after a heated argument with a driver was caught on video.
Among the changes that they floated as cures for what ails the company was a search for a new chief operations officer. While the search is ongoing — Kalanick, they said, was not on the call because he was interviewing COO candidates — they described the position as one that would provide balance to Kalanick in a “true partnership.”
Though Huffington said that she had personally spoken to hundreds of employees who demonstrated “real appetites for change internally,” she said she is not formally investigating the company’s problems. The ultimate judgment of whether issues such as sexism and lack of diversity are “systemic problems,” she said, would be revealed through an investigation led by former Attorney General Eric Holder.
His team is collecting information through interviews and anonymous tip lines, with findings expected at the end of April. Huffington vowed that the company would honor the report from Holder’s law firm, whatever it might contain, and make those findings public.
The Uber representatives said that the company is meanwhile using other means to oust any toxic elements of the company culture: holding one hundred listening sessions, training employees on “how to be a good ally,” updating recruiting descriptions to eliminate “unconscious bias” and pushing back against a “cult of the individual” that had come to define the working environment. Hornsey promised that the company’s first report on diversity would be forthcoming.
Holt, the operational expert on the call, described steps the company is taking to be more responsive and fair to drivers — given that many of those relationships are “frayed” — such as communicating with that vast network in a “more human” manner. She also emphasized that despite the PR problems and loss of riders who chose to #DeleteUber earlier this year, Uber has continued to experience growth: both attracting new riders and seeing existing riders take more trips.
Still, she repeated the overarching theme of the call along with her colleagues. “We know we have a long way to go, she said. “Everyone at Uber, including Travis, knows that we must change.”
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