For Some Uber Employees, Focus On Culture Shift Comes Too Late

On Tuesday, Uber vowed to change after a damning internal investigation into workplace culture. Some employees aren't so optimistic.

Current and former Uber employees say the ride-hail giant has for years ignored concerns raised by an internal investigation into the company’s culture.

The investigation — and the 13-page list of recommended changes to company structure and culture that resulted from it — came after a former employee, Susan Fowler, went public with allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment and Uber enlisted former attorney general Eric Holder to conduct an independent investigation of her claims. On Sunday, Uber’s board voted unanimously to adopt the report’s recommendations, and on Tuesday, management presented it to employees in an all-hands meeting.

But 10 current and former employees told BuzzFeed that while the report and the board’s receptiveness to it were encouraging, many of the issues and remedies outlined were well-known within the company for some time.

“They have had meetings internally for years where people brought up these concerns,” one employee told BuzzFeed News. “Now that they are doing damage control and Eric Holder’s firm said that need to change things, they are serious about it.”

“Many of us raised [concerns] for a long time,” another employee told BuzzFeed. “Directors of engineering that didn’t do anything are still there.”

“Seems like a good beginning, but unless there is much more behind the headlines, it's woefully inadequate,” one former senior employee told BuzzFeed News.

"They have had meetings internally for years where people brought up these concerns."

“I would guess none of this news is going to come as a surprise to anybody who’s ever spent any time at Uber,” another former employee said. “How much [of the report] is sort of cosmetic versus how much they actually plan to live it?”

Asked to comment for this article, an Uber spokesman referred BuzzFeed News to comments Liane Hornsey, the company’s chief human resources officer, made earlier in the day.

“Implementing these recommendations will improve our culture, promote fairness and accountability, and establish processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated,” she wrote. "While change does not happen overnight, we’re committed to rebuilding trust with our employees, riders and drivers."

The report recommended sweeping changes to the way Uber is run, including creating an ethics committee on the board, offering managers more training, prioritizing diversity, prohibiting sexual relationships between certain employees, and enforcing guidelines on alcohol consumption and drug use at company events. Uber’s reputation has been tarnished by a recent series of bruising accounts of its internal culture, and the Holder report and its recommendations seem to validate many of these stories.

"There’s a lot of improvement to be done and I’m glad we’re taking concrete steps.”

“I think there’s a lot of improvement to be done and I’m glad we’re taking concrete steps,” one current employee said. A former employee echoed a similar sentiment, saying that it is promising to see movement to improve the company’s culture after years of lip service.

Significantly, the report also called for a lesser role for Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick, who announced the same day of the report’s publication that he is taking a leave of absence from the company. “For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But 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 wrote in a note to staff Tuesday.

One employee speculated that Kalanick’s absence could help the company turn its culture around. Another employee told BuzzFeed, “I’d prefer him around even if he’s an asshole,” expressing concern about a leadership void. More than a dozen executives have left Uber this year. In Kalanick’s absence, the company will be run by his direct reports, including Rachel Holt, the head of Uber’s US and Canada business.

The report also specifically recommended that Uber reformulate its 14 cultural values, including mantras like “always be hustlin’, toe-stepping, and principled confrontation,” which the report indicated had been used within Uber “to justify poor behavior.”

“The cultural values were announced in 2015, many years in — that's already farcical,” another former employee said. “You don't state cultural values, you have them. So there's now a repeal, then what, replace?”

"It is bullshit that they are patting themselves on the back for just 25% women on the board.”

During the all-hands meeting Tuesday to discuss the report’s findings, Uber board member Arianna Huffington noted that Uber’s board is now 25% female. (Nestlé executive Wan Ling Martello joined the board on Monday.) “There’s a lot of data that shows that when there is one woman on the board it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman,” she said. David Bonderman, another board member, then interjected. “Actually what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking,” he said. Bonderman later apologized in a company-wide email for his comment.

One current employee brought up Bonderman’s joke as an example of how much further Uber has to go. “That is why it is bullshit that they are patting themselves on the back for just 25% women on the board,” the employee told BuzzFeed.

The report may rectify institutional issues for the future, another former employee said, but it does not compensate for years of ignored concerns.

“I don’t think it’s too late, but it’s a price all the older people paid,” this person said.

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