On Tuesday, Travis Kalanick resigned as CEO of Uber. His resignation comes amid a tumultuous year for one of the biggest tech companies in the world, and just a week after he took a leave of absence following the death of his mother in a boating accident. Various news sources claim that he resigned due to pressure he faced from investors as a result of the numerous scandals and investigations that are currently roiling the company.
Most recently, Uber board member David Bonderman resigned after leaked audio footage of a meeting revealed that he made a sexist remark during a presentation by fellow board member Sheryl Sandberg. That incident is only the tip of the iceberg compared to Uber’s myriad scandals related to sexual harassment, sexual assault and general misogyny.
Susan Fowler published a piece earlier this year detailing her experience working as an engineer at Uber—and how the company failed her as a female employee. Aside from ignoring her reports of sexual harassment in the workplace, she retells in the piece that Uber’s HR department refused to punish her harasser because he was a “high performer” and they “wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.” By the time Fowler left Uber, only 3 percent of the engineers on staff were women—a stunning drop from the beginning of her time at Uber, when women made up 25 percent of the organization.
Fowler’s story fits into a disturbing narrative women passengers, drivers and HQ staff have told, time and time again, about the rideshare company. Widespread allegations of sexual harassment and assault by Uber drivers have plagued the company, including a case in India where an Uber driver was arrested and convicted for raping a passenger but Kalanick and other executives became convinced the crime was set up by a local rival. Female drivers, too, experience harassment and assault—and have too often been met with silence from Uber when they report the incidents. After reviewing over 200 complaints, Uber fired over 20 employees for sexual harassment at their HQ this year. And in 2014, an executive jokingly threatened to “spend millions” to conduct smear campaigns on journalists who were outspoken critics of Uber’s business practices—including threatening to stalk a female journalist and her family.
In 2014, Kalanick showed partygoers marking Uber’s launch in a new city “God View,” which permits subscribers to see all of the Ubers and passengers in any given city waiting for ordered cars—and then revealed that it can be used to stalk people in real time. It is alleged that Uber used the tool to track the whereabouts of politicians, celebrities, journalists, ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends.
While Kalanick was CEO, Uber was also enmeshed in a series of scandals and lawsuits regarding labor rights. Uber uses a tool called “greyballing” to allow their cars to circumvent regulations that taxi companies are required to meet. The company also attempts to classify drivers as independent contractors, likely in order to minimize their own costs by offering lower wages and no benefits. They came under fire in January when they attempted to profit off of a strike the New York City taxicab union staged in solidarity with widespread protests against Trump’s muslim ban.
Though Uber has often found itself in the spotlight for these scandals and misdeeds, they are indicative not just of a problem with Uber’s culture, but of a widespread culture in Silicon Valley that ignores and silences women’s voices. It is the same culture that failed Ellen Pao. It is the same culture that failed Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu and the other women targeted by #GamerGate. It is the same culture that fails Twitter users every single day.
With the opportunity to hire a new CEO comes the opportunity for Uber to take the lead on combatting the tech sector’s culture of misogyny and correcting its endemic lack of diversity. Since the announcement of Kalanick’s resignation, many lists have emerged on the Internet that claim to know the key candidates up for Kalanick’s former position—in one, only a single woman candidate appears alongside four men.
To effectively change the culture at Uber, the company must embody the sea change that the tech industry needs and bring women not just to the table, but to the forefront.