An Early Investor Says Uber Has An Opportunity To "Reset The Culture"

With Uber CEO Travis Kalanick "stepping aside," Freada Kapor Klein is optimistic about the future of the company's culture. But she says employees who have been mistreated shouldn't be forgotten.

Early Uber investor Freada Kapor Klein told BuzzFeed News that she sees an opportunity for the company to start over after allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination, and a hostile work environment.

"One of the things about a rapidly growing company is that most of the people are new, so there is an ongoing opportunity to reset the culture," Kapor Klein told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday, Uber released a 12-page list of recommended changes to its structure and culture, which was unanimously approved by the company's board at a meeting on Sunday. The recommendations are the result of an independent investigation led by former attorney general Eric Holder into allegations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment at the company, which is valued at nearly $70 billion.

The company's top business executive, Emil Michael, resigned on Monday, while on Tuesday its CEO Travis Kalanick announced that he would be taking a leave of absence. (Kalanick is also grappling with a family tragedy.)

"With Travis stepping aside and Emil having resigned, and several other departures, with a thoroughgoing set of values and recommendations and controls and audits and checks on the behavior of senior leaders, I think there’s a possibility that things could indeed turn around," Kapor Klein said.

Kapor Klein has been openly critical of the workplace culture at Uber since former engineer Susan Fowler wrote a widely read blog post alleging that she experienced discrimination and harassment at the company.

In February, Kapor Klein, along with her husband and co-investor Mitch Kapor, published an open letter lambasting the "toxic pattern" of "sexism, sexual harassment and horrendous management at Uber." They also criticized Kalanick for selecting "a team of insiders" to conduct the internal investigation into these allegations.

But today, following the public release of the report, Kapor Klein called the investigation "comprehensive," and praised the willingness of Uber's management to seek outside expertise on tech culture.

Kapor Klein, who reviewed the Holder report prior to today's release, said she'd been in touch with Liane Hornsey, Uber's head of human resources, and Bernard Coleman, its head of diversity, in recent months. But what her role as a concerned investor will be going forward — whether she'll have a seat on an external advisory board, or what the mechanisms for ensuring that Uber follows these recommendations might be — remains unclear.

Not everyone was as optimistic as Kapor Klein following the release of the report. On Twitter, Fowler said her complaint against Uber isn't about an aggressive or sexist culture, but about "laws being broken."

Kapor Klein said the Holder report was intended to be forward-looking, and believes the company is committed to ensuring that "no person is ever treated like Susan Fowler was treated." But what, if anything, will be done to make up for the mistakes of the past remains to be seen.

"Certainly I think that Susan Fowler, and the employees who suffered in the past, who’ve been mistreated, who've been dismissed, and retaliated against — all those horrible things that have happened — in no way do I think that ought to be forgotten," she said. "I’d be interested in hearing whether there’s anything that Uber or any other company could do for Susan, to make her whole."

The recommendations made in the Holder report are, in some cases, quite granular. For example, the report recommends scheduling nightly catered dinners earlier, so that employees can take advantage of the benefit without staying late at work every night. Other parts of the report have specific suggestions for dealing with alcohol in the workplace.

On the surface, it would seem some of the suggestions could more broadly apply to a number of companies in the tech industry. But Kapor Klein warned others against copycatting the recommendations without adequate soul-searching. “I would be cautious and would not encourage another company to go through the Holder recommendations and adopt them wholesale," she said. "Each of the categories needs to be addressed, but in the context of one's business and one's culture and one's values.”

As well as being a founding partner of Kapor Capital, Kapor Klein is a founding member of Project Include, a group that provides advice on diversity and inclusion issues. She said many tech companies have expressed an interest in examining their own workplace practices in recent months, and that the Uber employees who were involved in the months-long process of bringing issues at the company to the surface should “take some pride in being part of a seismic shift in the tech ecosystem.”

Kapor Klein also said she'll continue to hold Uber accountable.

“We think that Uber ought to be given an opportunity to execute on these recommendations, to do so quickly and unequivocally. And if they don’t do so quickly, they deserve all the wrath of everyone,” she said.

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