The tech giant Uber, which now has transportation networks in over 528 cities worldwide has been under intense scrutiny during the past couple of weeks. From the company’s first release of its diversity report yesterday, to the unraveling fact that CEO Travis Kalanick took some high level executives (including SVP Emil Michael) to an “escort-karaoke bar” whilst on a business trip a few years ago, it’s really no surprise that Uber has been in the spotlight recently for some unflattering reasons.
Let’s start with the business trip to Seoul back in 2014. Gabi Holzwarth, a concert violinist and Kalanick’s girlfriend at the time has stated that a group of Uber managers and execs visited an escort karaoke bar where women apparently wore number tags and were selected to dine with certain employees. A female manager who attended and felt uncomfortable reported the incident to HR soon after, but nothing came of it. According to a report from The Information, Uber’s SVP Emil Michael had supposedly called Holzwarth a few weeks back in an attempt to prevent her from disclosing any information about this scandal to the press.
On March 28th, Uber publicly shared a report to various news outlets and publishers to in the hopes of showing company transparency. The diversity report shows figures that the tech giant is in no way different from other companies in relation to the breakdown of its female, black and Hispanic workforce. While the report highlights that the percentage of female held technical roles is comparable to other companies such as Facebook and Google, only 22 percent of leadership roles are held by women.
This report comes in the wake of what Inc.com calls a “firestorm of criticism ignited by a scathing account of sexism and harassment by a former engineer.” and a pattern of not responding to -or irresponsibly handling- reports of sexual assault.
As for Uber’s breakdown of its workforce by race, Asian and white workers are pretty equally split even in the technical role category but overall, whites still represent half of its workers (with black workers only at 9 percent). With regard to leadership, whites make up around 77 percent of the workforce.
As a response to this report, Uber has also decided to allocate around 3 million dollars to various organizations in order to make it easier for women and other marginalized groups to enter the tech space.
In his own words, the the cofounder and CEO says that he needed to “fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” after a video was published of Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver regarding dropped prices on its UberBlack service.
Compounding negative opinions in 2017, Uber also operated service to JFK airport in NYC, the site of protests opposing President Trump’s executive order blocking some Middle Eastern travelers and refugees from entering the country. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance called for a one-hour service ban strike to JFK in support, during which cab companies and ride-hailing service Lyft temporarily halted pickups at the airport. Uber continued service, prompting ill-will from both those supporting the protests as well as union supporters who considered Uber’s decision as “strikebreaking.” The hashtag #deleteuber was a trending topic throughout the night and well into the next morning. NYC Historically, Uber achieved the market saturation it has achieved by knowingly operating illegally in cities, and even writing software to help drivers evade law enforcement.
Is it fair to say that Uber has already had an interesting year in terms of company related scandals? And to think, we’re only approaching the end of Q1.