On Tuesday, Uber announced a host of changes that it hopes will stem the ongoing public-relations crisis the company has found itself in for the past several months. The embattled CEO, Travis Kalanick, will step away from the company for an unspecified period of time. But that won’t likely change the day-to-day lives of the more than 5,000 Uber employees as much as the the changes the company is committing to make to their recruiting, retention, and workplace-culture policies, detailed in a report known as the Holder Report.
For many, a cultural change at Uber seems overdue. At the start of 2017, a former Uber employee, Susan Fowler, published a damning blog post alleging her experiences with sexism and discrimination at the company, and the feeble response she received when she complained. Immediately after Fowler’s post, the company retained the former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and his firm Covington Burling to investigate the company’s culture and structure and to provide recommendations to help it improve. While the firm worked on its investigation, more disturbing details about Kalanick’s behavior and the culture of the company came to light, leading many to wonder if Uber’s survival was on the line.
The 13-page report by Holder and his team attempts to address a wide variety of problems, some of which are Uber-specific, but many of which are common to companies across the country, such as a lack of diversity, particularly at the higher levels of the corporate structure. Many of the changes Uber plans to implement, such as flexible work schedules and less aggressive mottos, are quite basic, but if the company can do so successfully it might encourage companies struggling with similar problems to follow suit. Some of the other initiatives, such as hiring a chief operating officer and instituting mandatory management and interview trainings for HR and other leadership, are the sorts of things that are extremely common at small and medium-sized companies, to say nothing of a big, international company like Uber.
This report isn’t the company’s first foray into the discussion about diversity. In late 2016, Uber shared data about its dismal diversity numbers and its commitment to improving them. The report encourages the company to continue to publish its diversity statistics, as well as to assemble an employee diversity board, and to expand the role and reach of Bernard Coleman, the current head of diversity, elevating the position to report directly to the CEO and COO. Holder and his team also suggest that employees undergo implicit-bias training (a contested method of increasing awareness and diversity) and implement blind resume review to decrease opportunities for bias based on perceived race or gender—a proven issue in hiring.
“Implementing these recommendations will improve our culture, promote fairness and accountability, and establish processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. While change does not happen overnight, we’re committed to rebuilding trust with our employees, riders and drivers,” Liane Hornsey, Uber’s chief human-resources officer said in a statement.
Beyond these basic plans, additional changes coming down the pike may strike some as a bit more symbolic than substantive. According to Bloomberg, the “War Room” will be renamed the “Peace Room,” and Mike Isaac of The New York Times reports that Uber’s head of Human Resources requested that everyone in attendance at a company meeting to give each other a hug. Those type of feel-good exercises are undoubtedly an attempt to bring about a new, kinder Uber. But they’ll be meaningless without real shifts in the company’s policies and corporate structure—the kinds of changes that are much harder to make.
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