by Kate Harveston
Has there, in recent memory, been a company which has fallen from grace as spectacularly as Uber after such a swift ride to the top? It was supposed to be the fresh face, the harnesser of technologies, that would deliver the world’s nations from the monopolistic and occasionally murderous taxicab industry.
What’s happened instead, so far, would be a disservice to the phrase “dumpster fire.”
A Blunder in India
Let’s rip the Band-Aid off right now: It’s clear Uber has no idea what it’s doing. The company is regularly accused of underreporting sexual assaults carried out by their drivers and in some cases fails to fire the employee in time to stop them from repeating their crime.
Then there’s the apparent turmoil surrounding the company’s rollout of driverless cars. It reveals a company with conflicting ideas about its own future: one where it supports an economy with human drivers, risks and all, or one where cars drive themselves and Uber’s metamorphosis into a full-blown tech company finally consummated. Oh, and it probably ripped off trade secrets owned by Google while they were at it.
With fiascos now a weekly occurrence at Uber, the company found itself under fire most recently when it released a breathtakingly tone-deaf advertisement in India. The ad promoted something called Wife Appreciation Day and encouraged rigorously gender-typed males to spring their even more regressively caricaturized wives from the kitchen and indulge in the sumptuous culinary selections offered by — what else? — UberEats.
What we know about Uber’s culture has now nearly totally eclipsed whatever promise the upstart company once had. When even Uber staff meetings about sexism are rampant with casual sexism, it becomes clear to onlookers that male chauvinism is a basically inextricable part of Uber’s company culture.
Don’t laugh about out-of-touch middle-aged men revealing their ignorance in public — Uber’s cluelessness about where civilized society stands with respect to the equality of the sexes has proved to be literally dangerous. London experienced such an uptick in reported sexual assaults in Uber vehicles that it banned the company from operating within city limits.
There’s a clear theme emerging here. The sexism in Uber’s boardroom isn’t necessarily directly to blame for their drivers’ appalling conduct, but the company’s apparent failure to properly vet their drivers definitely is. What this company becomes, if it ever manages to grow up, is anybody’s guess. For now, it’s time to talk directly to everybody who runs this absurd sinking ship and ask:
Can’t you see what you’re doing here?
Uber and Revolution
Early 2017 delivered one the largest, if not the largest, peaceful protest in American history. By some estimates, as many as four and a half million men and women took to the streets of Washington, D.C., to loudly and decisively condemn the coalition of hatred taking shape in our nation’s capital.
Whether you take him at face value or read his antics as accidentally parodic, nearly everything America’s current president has said about women in his adult life has been sexist to a nearly comical degree. In debasing himself on his way to the top of the political food chain, he’s helped millions of other Americans seek out and get reacquainted with their inner chauvinist. So, yeah, this is perhaps the worst possible time for a company with a profile like Uber’s to collapse inward in a shower of naked lady playing cards and broken promises to their riders.
The administration which now occupies every branch of America’s democracy is tearing apart social institutions and replacing them with corporate stand-ins that answer to the name "government" only grudgingly. If that’s the world we’re to live in for the next little while, we need to know that leaders in industry — all of them, and perhaps especially in Silicon Valley — are standing on the right side of the issues that are somehow, improbably, still plaguing our nation in 2017.
Instead, right now, Uber is spending its time holding open old wounds instead of helping build a promising new world. It’s unbelievable it hasn’t figured out by now how much damage it’s doing by perpetuating old-fashioned stereotypes in developing countries and ignoring the damage their poor leadership is causing back home.
Because it’s not just grand-level, marching-in-the-streets stuff, either. We all work for a living and we all want to take for granted that our workplaces are harmonious environments where we can be ourselves without fear of being preyed upon. When a president and nearly the entire upper management of one of the most promising international tech companies tacitly confirm that verbal and physical assault are socially acceptable, where are we to look for role models?
Follow Kate here: @KateHarveston