Renowned online cab-hailing company, Uber, is no stranger to controversy, but in recent months, these controversies have reached new heights. What started with a viral tell-all blog post by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler in February has culminated in the possible forfeiture of Travis Kalanick’s position as CEO of the company.
In her blog post, Fowler cited sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and inappropriate behaviour by management. Her post opened up a can of worms paving the way for more scandalous revelations including a leaked email from Kalanick to staff in 2013, and the mishandling of a medical report of an Uber rape victim. This led to both an external and internal investigation into the company’s workplace culture with the latter resulting in the firing of over 20 employees last week.
But there is so much more to be done as revealed by the recommendations of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder whose firm conducted a thorough investigation into the issues cited by Fowler in her post. The 13-paged document suggests a nearly complete overhaul of the company’s workplace culture and management.
The recommendations include amongst other things, changes to senior leadership with a review and reallocation of Kalanick’s responsibilities. It also includes reformulation of Uber’s cultural values, improvement to human resources and complaint management and a ban on romantic or intimate relationships between individuals in a reporting relationship.
On Sunday, Uber’s board of directors unanimously voted to adopt all of Holder’s recommendations, starting with the departure of the company’s senior vice president, Emil Michael. Followed by Kalanick’s indefinite leave of absence, which was announced on Tuesday, June 13.
In an email to staff yesterday, Kalanick revealed that he was going on an indefinite leave of absence to grieve his mother’s death. “I need to take some time off of the day-to-day to grieve my mother, whom I buried on Friday, to reflect, to work on myself, and to focus on building out a world-class leadership team. If we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve,” he said.
Earlier in the year, Kalanick had acknowledged that his management style needs improvement while tendering an apology after he was caught on video berating an Uber driver who complained about pay and declining fare. “It’s clear this video is a reflection of me, and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” he said.
As noted by the New York Times, Kalanick’s absence “will be a significant change for a company that was moulded in his image.” And although many worry about his return, or whether or not he will retain his position as CEO of the company if he does, reports show that Kalanick has nothing to worry about owing to the founder-controlled structure of the company.
In general, it is believed that many employees are happy with the recommendations and excited to see how their implementation would play out. But others are of the opinion that the management would have done a better job of nipping these issues in the bud. Meanwhile, Fowler, whose blog post sparked the investigations, does not seem content with the current changes as Uber is yet to issue her an apology. “They’ll never apologize. I’ve gotten nothing but aggressive hostility from them. It’s all optics,” she tweeted yesterday.