Editorials

Uber has a lot to teach Silicon Valley

A sign marks a pick-up point for the Uber at LaGuardia Airport in New York.
A sign marks a pick-up point for the Uber at LaGuardia Airport in New York. AP

Uber long has been the poster child for everything that’s wrong with Silicon Valley. The dismal treatment of women. The corner-cutting business practices. The unbelievably childish and even dangerous bro culture.

But as CEO Travis Kalanick is learning the hard way, no one – especially no corporate executive – can act like a child forever. Eventually, responsibility and maturity must come for us all. And the longer one waits, the worse the growing pains are going to be.

For the ride-hailing company, this week is certainly evidence of that.

On Tuesday, top executives summoned staff to Uber’s San Francisco headquarters to announce that they had fired 20 people for violating workplace policies.

More than 215 of the company’s 12,000-plus employees had been accused of everything from sexual harassment to discrimination to bullying to retaliation to physical threats – an unacceptable, if not entirely surprising number.

An investigation by Perkins Coie LLP, one of two outside law firms Uber wisely hired to ferret out misconduct and restore its reputation, cleared only about 100 employees of wrongdoing. About 30 others are now in some type of counseling or workplace training, another 60 are still being investigated and seven have received written warnings.

So brace yourselves for the horror stories that will certainly trickle out over social media in the coming weeks. #DeleteUber anyone?

Separately, word spread Wednesday that Uber has fired its top executive in Asia for hanging onto the medical records of a woman who was raped by her Uber driver in India – a fact that, disgustingly, was widely known among the company’s leaders, including Kalanick.

These are the things that need to change and, thanks to Arianna Huffington being on Uber’s board, actually are. However painful the process, cleaning house is the only way to make up for years of letting male employees pick on women with impunity as long they helped the ride-hailing company make gobs of money.

It’s also the only way to show that the company is making real progress to ensure some other Uber engineer doesn’t have to publish a blog just to get her managers to address her complaints about being sexually harassed at work.

And then there’s also the fallout from Uber playing fast and loose with the rules of business.

On Wednesday, the company suffered a setback in its fight with Google. U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco denied Uber’s request for a stay, allowing a trial to go forward in October over whether Uber stole trade secrets from Google. The outcome of the case could determine which company is first to market with autonomous vehicles.

Another report surfaced this week that Uber started using an algorithm for its new employees that reinforced an existing gender wage gap, causing even more turmoil inside the tech company.

To say this has been a bad week for Uber would be an understatement of epic proportions.

CEOs of other Silicon Valley companies should see this as a cautionary tale. This is what growing up looks like when a company tries to avoid it. Start cleaning your ranks and following the rules now or your company is going to replace Uber as the next poster child for bad behavior.

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