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Allegations from former Uber employee, Susan Fowler, that the company has ignored intrinsic issues of sexual harassment and discrimination, have had a corrosive effect on Uber’s already tarnished reputation.

In her blog post, Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber, Fowler writes she was sent sexual requests by her manager over e-mail. This episode, among many, was brushed under the carpet by an HR department who told her that her manager was a “high performer” and that “they wouldn’t feel comfortable” punishing what was “probably a mistake.” Having continued her career at Uber, Fowler describes meeting other women engineers who had encountered similar experiences, mostly with the same man reported for his “first offense” with Fowler.

Fowler also reported women actively transferring out of the organization because of the deeply ingrained sexism within its corporate culture.

Having forwarded every episode to HR, the department told Fowler that it was unprofessional to report things via email, whilst insisting that she was the common theme. Fowler quotes the department’s warning to her: “Certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds are better suited to some jobs than others.” They told her she “shouldn’t be surprised by the gender ratios in engineering.”

Following the recent popular campaign #DeleteUber, which started after the company broke a taxi strike targeting Donald Trump’s migration ban at JFK airport, 200,000 Uber accounts have been deleted. Uber is scrambling to recover its image, reassuring users deleting their accounts in protest that they are responding to the problems.

In a statement to their angry users, Uber claim they are “deeply hurting” and are undergoing an ‘independent review’ of their workplace culture. This is being led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder and Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington. Other members of the investigation team are active Uber employees, which may in fact whitewash the review’s objectivity and ‘independence’.

As Uber has become such a monopolizing business, its culture seems to have taken on a life of its own. When a woman’s boss asks for sex over company chat, it seems the ‘fratty’ ethos of Uber has morphed into something ugly and uncontrollable.

In June, Uber announced a 3.5-billion-dollar investment from the government of Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the world’s worst reputations when it comes to respecting women’s rights. Infamous for refusing to allow women to drive and limiting their ability to go out in public without a man, it seems Travis Kalanick (Uber CEO) has little regard for gender equality and high ethical standards.

As a startup, people initially found Uber’s rule-breaking attitude to business charming and appealing. But now, as the dominating brand within the taxi market, its reputation has become increasingly menacing.

Actively addressing this issue, however, seems to be near impossible. With Uber’s scope and scale, tiny incidents of sexism that amalgamate into an overall misogynistic work culture cannot be controlled by one CEO. If the managers had the stubborn, bigoted attitude in the first place, it seems unlikely that a public pledge and apology from Kalanick will change their working practices.

With the public progressively demanding transparency, authenticity and responsibility from the companies they endorse, Uber users seem unwilling to give the company the benefit of the doubt. Building a business model on corrupt ethics, unsustainable chauvinistic attitudes, and playing the victim when held accountable, is cowardly and manipulative.

If managers are not on board with a new diversification policy, there are several ways they could make life hell for women employees. But it is a poor and weak excuse not to even try. It seems Uber has some serious work to do to un-dig itself from the hole it buried its head in.  

 

Zoe Thompson

Bristol '18

President of Her Campus Bristol.
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