Uber, Travis Kalanick

Post the grim revelation of Uber’s workplace culture through the blog post of a former employee, Uber has come under fire from those within as well as outside the organisation. CEO Travis Kalanick has already expressed his reservations against abhorrent remarks and the culture within his company. But, yesterday, he decided to sit down with more than 100 female Uber employees to understand their concerns about the company’s internal environment.

As reported by BuzzFeed on the basis of a voice recording of the meeting, the founder was grilled by the female crowd who were trying to make him understand that Uber surely had a systemic problem with sexism. And the female engineer who addressed the problem is heard pressing the issue and asking Kalanick to address the issue head-on. The female employee in the recording says,

Can we stop saying if there’s a systemic problemhere. I think it’s really important that we get there. I think for years in tech we’ve been saying if there’s a systemic problem there. And saying where’s the data to suggest the [systemic problem]?

For those unaware, the systemic problem she’s so insistently referring to is the cases of sexual harassment against many employees at Uber. Susan Fowler’s blog post was accompanied with accounts of the negligence of the HR department, who repeatedly cited the high performance of such employees as an excuse.  They even threatened her with a poor performance review, proof enough to understand misogyny in Silicon Valley. To emphasise this point, the female engineer further continues to add,

We have the data, we have the anecdotes, we have it happening in our own backyard. When are we going to get together and say that there is a systemic problem here — and stop using hypotheticals.

CEO Travis Kalanick has already assured that a thorough independent investigation of the allegations will be carried out in the coming weeks. But, he reiterated the said point and asked the female employees present in the room if they believe in the lawyers — former U.S Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran — who’ve been hired to independently review the sexual harassment allegations.

To this, one female engineer chimed in and said that Kalanick was currently discussing something far ahead of what they need to first address — trust. She added that such a systemic problem wouldn’t have arisen in the first place if Uber believed and started listening to its own people for once.

I don’t think it does start there, Travis. I think is starts before that, I think it starts wth listening to your own people. And I think that over the past several years if we had already been listening to our people we would already believe this systemic problem was here.

Kalanick accepted the problem, saying that the engineers made a ‘fair enough’ point to justify the situation. And he further added,

I empathize with you but I can never fully understand and I get that. I want to root out the injustice. I want to get at the people who are making this place a bad place. And you have my commitment to make that happen.

In addition, he continued to add that the dialogue (as well as internal progress) doesn’t stop at that instant. Kalanick says that he’s now completely aware that the situation is worst and the problem is bigger than the Susan situation — for which he is extremely ‘Sorry’. He further adds that he aggressively focused on rooting this culture out from the grass root level.

In a situation where many women have experienced this kind of thing, the onus is on us to earn credibility. Part of how we get to that place where there’s more optimism is by taking it and apologizing, understanding and doing everything we can to get to the bottom of it.

And I want you to know that I’m all about rooting this out. And being very aggressive about that. While also being supportive and empathic — and trying to build that support and empathy through the organization.

You can definitely make out that a face-to-face interaction with most of the female engineers at Uber built its pressure on Travis, who is now hellbent on upholding the reputation of his company. Now, at least, he is well-versed with the toxic and sexist atmosphere that has been propagated by some Uber employees. If you want to hear the complete dialogue, here’s the leaked audio recording:


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