Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, brought in new leaders and outlined more principled corporate values when he took over the reins from the controversial Travis Kalanick.
As companies grow in success and power, we expect them to become more responsible. Unfortunately, Uber seems incapable of making that leap. After a series of missteps, Uber brought in a new leadership that vowed to clean up the ride-sharing giant’s toxic culture. Thus far, the results are less than promising.
For example, the chief operating officer, the very person brought in to fix Uber’s culture, is under fire for making racially charged comments; Uber’s head of HR has been pushed out the door because she failed to take seriously concerns about racial discrimination; and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is reportedly investigating widespread allegations of sexual harassment inside the company.
Uber is not alone in its failure to live up to the highest levels of accountability. This is a plague infecting digital platforms across Silicon Valley. Facebook is under fire for allowing Russian meddling on its platform and putting profits over the privacy of its users. Google enables illicit and illegal behaviors, including the sale of drugs, stolen credit cards and the spread of terrorist propaganda across its platforms. What’s worse, the examples these companies have set appear to have shaped the actions of newly minted disrupters in the electric scooter space, which have flouted local safety and security regulations.
As new corporate leaders, these companies set an example. Right now, it’s the wrong example.
How did this crisis build?
Uber watchers breathed a sigh of relief last year when Dara Khosrowshahi was named CEO, replacing the controversial Travis Kalanick. Khosrowshahi brought in new leaders and outlined more principled corporate values. But it remains to be seen whether the new CEO can actually change the culture.
This crisis is Khosrowshahi’s first test. Will he live up to the “new cultural norms” he articulated last November, saying, “We do the right thing. Period.” Doing the right thing is hard. It requires living up to a higher set of principles. But the most trusted and effective digital platforms go beyond good words; they live up to their principles every day, and Uber should do the same.
Transparency. One of Khosrowshahi’s cultural norms is, “when we make mistakes, we’ll own up to them.” But owning up to mistakes takes a level of transparency far greater than Uber provides today.
While the company released a set of detailed recommendations from former Attorney General Eric Holder on how to change Uber’s workplace culture, it held back the actual findings of the report, most likely because the company would be embarrassed at how deep the problems go. In a recent interview, the now-departed head of HR said that she believed the full report should be released, but Uber’s board had decided to keep it under wraps. So the question now is: Will Uber’s leadership will do the right thing and #releasethereport?
Diversity. Another new Uber cultural norm states, “We ensure people of diverse backgrounds feel welcome.” Given recent events, clearly this isn’t the case. Uber must launch a new independent investigation to provide a report card about the extent to which things have changed under the new CEO and make additional recommendations to actually change the broken culture.
Accountability. Khosrowshahi asserted: “We have a bias for action and accountability.” After a new investigation, Uber must once again clean house and remove those who contribute to the poisonous environment, no matter how close they are personally to the CEO. That’s the only way to begin to change things beyond words.
Uber, like many other digital platforms, is at a crossroads. The choices it makes will determine whether it deserves our trust. It’s easy to bring in a new CEO and start the process of transformation. The hard part comes in moments of crisis.
Will the CEO live up to the principles he has laid out or will he try to quietly move past this crisis in the hopes that people will look away? The jury is still out.
Tom Galvin is executive director of the Digital Citizens Alliance, and Emily Pierce served as acting director of the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs in the Obama administration.