Many assert that technology, such as Uber, is bias-free. However, this assertion is false.
Fundamentally, technology is created by humans. Consequently, those who create and program technology have the obligation to check and correct for bias. Technology will continue to perpetuate discrimination and bias when those with this responsibility abdicated it. An example of this occurred to my friend. With her permission, I’m presenting an Uber case study in technology facilitated inequity.
A good friend of mine and her husband received offers to drive with Uber. These offers were guarantees on income based on the same fixed number of trips. For context, both previously drove for Uber. Neither of them has driven for Uber in over a year. Both are based in Philadelphia. Both of their cars would only qualify for Uber X. Each of them received offers on the same day. Based on these factors, then, both my friend and her husband should receive the same guarantees.
The first image is my friend’s offer. The second is her husband’s offer.
What a Woman Was Guaranteed to Earn Driving For Uber
What Her Husband Was Guaranteed to Drive For Uber
Simply put, Uber offered my friend $.82 cent for every $1 they offered her husband to drive the same number of trips for Uber.
The Follow Up with Uber
As an engineer, I am aware that other factors could be at play in setting these offers. I am also aware that those other factors may not actually be benign. For this reason, I presented Uber with these screenshots. I then asked about the situation. Below are copies of Uber’s responses:
First response received by Uber’s support team on this matter.
Second response received by Uber’s support team in response to my inquiry.
Uber claims the referral amounts are determined by a driver’s location. However, when further pressed on the facts, Uber did not discuss how the amounts were determined. Instead, representatives from Uber talked about the opportunity being provided to drivers. When further pressed on this deflection, Uber declined to respond.
Further Review Shows This Is Not an Isolated Event.
Further research suggests my friend’s story is not an isolated experience. Last year, Uber was under investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission due to alleged gender pay gaps. We do not know the current status of that investigation. However, we do know that a 7% gender pay gap exists among Uber’s drivers. We know this because of a Stanford study, co-authored by both the current Head of Economic Research at Uber Technologies and a former Chief Economist for Uber, reviewed Uber’s internal data and came to this conclusion. It is important for the reader to know this study came out earlier this month.
We also know that Uber agreed to settle claims of gender and racial discrimination and harassment. This settlement affected approximately 500 employees.
Finally, we also know that Uber was fined $20 Million by the Federal Trade Commission for exaggerating claims regarding driver compensation and its predatory lending practices regarding vehicle leasing.
This Situation is Not Justified
1. Uber’s Representations Do Not Add Up
If we are to take Uber’s representations at face value, then my friend and her husband should have received the same offer. Unfortunately, this is not the case. These occurrences are not justified by Uber’s tone-deaf rationale. The tone-deaf rationale, investigations, and settlements suggest a culture at Uber that allows these occurrences to continue unchecked and without significant correction.
2. The Value Provided Uber’s Drivers and Engineers Does Not Depend on Gender and Race
Fundamentally, Uber is a platform to connect those in need of a ride with those willing to provide one. The value of a ride does not depend on the gender of the driver. Thus, the guaranteed compensation offered to drivers should not differ based on gender. Uber’s potential use of other non-disclosed factors to make these offers does not justify the disparity witnessed here-especially if those other factors are gender and racially biased.
Nor does it support gender and racial pay gaps for other Uber employees supporting the platform. As a Stanford-trained engineer of color, I can assure you that the value of an engineer and programmer is not rooted in their race nor their gender.
3. The Stanford Study Reinforces The Claims and Appearance of Unwarranted Bias
Relying on statements about neighborhood choice, driver speed, and experience to explain the pay gap, as done in the previously referenced Stanford study, is not a justification. First, go back to the Uber responses shared above. Neither email warranted experienced, or driver speed and neighborhood choice, as a factor into determining the value of the guarantees.
Second, both drivers had previous experience driving with Uber.
Next, such statements penalize women for being safer drivers. Why would you reward risky driving at the expense of responsible driving? This does not make sense, is irresponsible, and is a moral hazard.
Additionally, such statements ignore the precautions women must take for their safety. This penalizes women for taking steps to ensure their safety when the world has not.
Finally, my friend and her husband’s offer depend on future trips. So how can neighborhood choice be a factor in my friend’s case?
Using this study to argue that Uber’s lower guarantees are not biased is faulty logic. This is because this study suggests the pay gap exist because women are not driving like men. Uber’s platform, then, facilitates a system that provides women with lower earnings because they do not act like men. It then fails to have a mechanism in place to account for the biases of consumers and drivers on other drivers and consumers. This is inequity and bias in action. Uber’s platform facilitates it.
Call to Action
What happened to my friend presents a strong appearance of gender biasing and discrimination by Uber. Uber’s own conduct reinforces this.
Companies cannot rely on predatory and discriminatory business practices. Uber is no exception. In the face of this crisis, Uber can do one of two things. They can either stop these business practices or stop doing business. They cannot continue the status quo.
If Uber wants to continue doing business, then I call for them to do the following:
- Disclose the factors used to make compensation offers to all potential drivers and employees;
- Review these factors with outside third parties to study how these factors correct or reinforce wage discrimination for women, people of color, and women of color;
- Compensate affected drivers and employees retroactively;
- Review current business practices to eliminate predatory business behaviors while facilitating transparent and honest communications with all stakeholders;
- Use this review to improve Uber’s policies and procedures; and
- Develop policies to improve communications regarding inquiries into and reports of discrimination and bias.
A public statement of apology is insufficient. The best and most meaningful apology requires two things. First, one must make amends for the harms of the past. Second, one must change behaviors that the harms of the past are not repeated in the future. Uber must do both.
I also ask everyone reading this to help hold Uber accountable.
It is 2019, but even if it was 1919, this situation is not acceptable. It is up to us as the consumers to show it will no longer be tolerated.
Thank you for reading. Countless women and I hope to thank you in the future for acting.