THE INC. LIFE

5 Things You Should Learn from Uber’s Culture Debacle

What are today’s leaders thinking about?

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BY Brad Grossman - 07 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Consider the forces coming together right now. We've got a gloves-off political climate. There's a renewed sense of urgency for women's rights after the Women's March. And news about how pathetically companies respond when women speak up about sexual harassment (Uber, Kay Jewelers) is slingshotting around social media.

Here are five takeaways from the current culture debacle plaguing $70 billion Uber.

Patience is running out. In 2013 "bro culture" was the watchword for Silicon Valley. Fast forward four years, and where are we? A mere 15% of Uber's tech employees are female and former Uber engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti's blog post about the sexual harassment she experienced at Uber and the company's Kafka-esque HR responses go viral. Oh, and #DeleteUber starts trending again.

Sexism is almost always part of a bigger corporate culture problem. One of the key takeaways from Rigetti's blog was Uber's chaotic work environment has lots of victims, not just women. A "dog eat dog" competitiveness was widespread and fostered. Employees regularly undermined their colleagues and supervisors to take their jobs.

It was never the first time. Uber has been here before. "As early investors in Uber, starting in 2010, we have tried for years to work behind the scenes to exert a constructive influence on company culture," wrote Mitch and Freada Kapor in an open letter to Uber's board and investors.

Stink starts from the top. Managers notorious for reprimandable behavior avoided the axe at Uber as long as they hit revenue, growth or other targets. In 2014, Uber's talented and pugnacious senior vice president of business, Emil Michael, threatened to dig up dirt on journalists critical of Uber. Instead of being reprimanded, he was defended by Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Corporate reputations sit on thin ice. As Rigettis' blog post and the #DeleteUber campaign demonstrated, in our world of transparency and constant communication, corporate reputations are more vulnerable than ever to disgruntled employees and dissatisfied customers.

Companies that don't nurture a safe and inclusive workplace for women are putting everyone -- their employees, their investors and shareholders -- at risk. "We need to move beyond the traditional... training to real conversations about safety and security," says Shelley Zalis, CEO of the advocacy organization The Female Quotient. "It is imperative that we create a modern culture for women and men, so that all people can thrive in the workplace."

Company leaders who think they are already doing a good job on gender issues in the workplace shouldn't relax. The startup instinct may be to focus on growth at all costs -- but if the cost is a healthy work environment, your growth isn't sustainable.

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