Uber might be one of the most prominent tech startups in recent years, but that hasn’t stopped it from also becoming one of the most sexist and toxic company cultures we’ve ever seen. How did a ride-sharing service end up creating a company culture built on sexism, and how is that impacting the world?
London Bans Uber Over Sexual Assault
Until recently, London was one of Uber’s biggest markets — more than 40,000 drivers worked for the ride-sharing company. The company’s failure to comply with driver background checks, and a growing number of unaddressed sexual assaults, caused the London transport body to remove Uber’s permit to function in the city of London. The ride-sharing company was declared unfit to hold private operator license in the city, leaving London Uber drivers without a job and the people who use the ride-sharing service scrambling to find alternative means of transportation.
In London’s eyes, Uber simply isn’t doing everything it can to ensure the citizens of London are safe when they use the service — and by not addressing problems like sexual assault quickly, they’re perpetuating a culture that tacitly permits sexism. One driver was accused of sexually assaulting one of his passengers. The victim reported the assault to Uber, but the company did nothing in response. The driver not only kept his job — he later assaulted another woman.
He was finally fired from Uber and prosecuted for the assaults, but the response came too little, too late. Uber could have prevented the second assault entirely by addressing the first one, but they couldn’t be bothered until it became a high-profile case that brought them to the fore in a very negative light.
They Just Don’t Get It
Uber’s sexist culture came to light earlier this year when a former employee, Susan Fowler, finally left the company and went public with her experiences working for Uber as a site reliability engineer. On her blog, she describes her experiences better than we ever could, but in brief, she was punished for reporting inappropriate behavior to human resources and blocked from transferring or advancing in the company because she was a token representative of her gender. The final straw came when she was threatened with termination for reporting a manager’s behavior to HR.
When Fowler started working for Uber, approximately 25 percent of the engineers were female — when she left, that number had dropped to 3 percent, and it doesn’t look like Uber is doing much to turn that trend around by changing the toxic culture they’ve created.
The Talking Head Departs
When the blog post outlining the sexist culture of Uber emerged, then-CEO Travis Kalanick said it was “against everything Uber stands for,” and called the behavior abhorrent. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth — and rather than standing up and making changes in his company, Kalanick abandoned ship soon after.
Sexism isn’t a new occurrence, though — male Fox News anchors have commented publicly about how they ogle their female colleagues’ legs through the glass top of the desk, and of course, for some reason there are defenders of the offensive “locker-room talk” from our current president. This culture of sexism is pervasive, and it’s only when we bring it to light and admit it’s repugnant that we can actually start doing something about it.
Uber isn’t the only company that’s immersed in this sexist culture — it’s just the only one that has been in the spotlight in recent months. The idea of ride sharing services, in general, has brought up many legal issues since its birth, and we can’t let our desire to get a quick, easy ride outweigh the importance of making it clear that we don’t stand for this kind of culture. Whether it means switching to another ride sharing service or even taking the time to write the company, we shouldn’t let them sweep these incidents under the rug or just leave them as a footnote in the company’s history. If Uber won’t stand up for their workers, it’s up to us to stand up for them.