Uber-scandalous: Travis Kalanick hits another roadblock

James Marshall
March 26, 2017

Uber held a press conference yesterday to discuss the specific changes it will be making after months of scandals.

Even as it acknowledges past mistakes, Uber says the fallout hasn't damaged its business yet.

The board member's comment came after a former Uber employee posted allegations last month about the company, sparking questions about gender bias and sexual harassment.

Ms Holt, who oversees the company's U.S. and Canada business, said Uber was also making changes to its app and support network to improve conditions for drivers. As the New York Times reports, Huffington said during the 45-minute call, "The board is confident in Travis, and we are proceeding ahead with the search for the COO".

Kalanick couldn't make it to the press event because he was busy interviewing candidates for the COO position, they said.

While Uber is no stranger to controversy, the deep extent of its workplace problems were revealed in February when former engineer Susan Fowler published scathing allegations of sexual harassment. Holt said that as of the week of March 12, "riders in the USA took more trips with Uber than ever before".

And late last year, Uber was forced to defend claims it was "staggeringly unprofitable" - Uber loses about $2.7 billion ($US2 billion) a year - in effect relying on billions of dollars in subsidies from investors to undercut taxi drivers with cheap fares, and would need to "quadruple" fares to become profitable. He has apologized in internal meetings for his behavior and for fostering an inappropriate workplace culture, but as scandals pile up - including claims of shocking managerial behavior, a video showing Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver and a lawsuit accusing the company of stealing Waymo's self-driving technology - he has largely avoided the public eye. Uber will fill that role before addressing the mounting vacancies left by several recent, high-level departures, said Liane Hornsey, chief human resources officer. The absence of any male voice stuck out at a company rarely touted for its female leadership, and accused by its own employees of having a "systemic problem" with sexism.

"Put simply, change starts at the top", Huffington said.

The choice to have just the three women on the call was a calculated one, as VentureBeat points out, perhaps to "send a strong message to the female rank and file at Uber" that the company would no longer be a harassment-filled boys' club. I'm personally a big believer in people, leaders, companies being allowed to evolve...

Following Fowler's post, Kalanick issued a memo committing the company to releasing its diversity report.

Company president and second in command Jeff Jones announced his resignation on March 19, after just six months on the job.

Uber has also been hit with a lawsuit from Alphabet's self-driving unit Waymo alleging "calculated theft" of its autonomous auto technology and recently admitted to using "Greyball" - an elaborate tool used to deceive law enforcement. Hornsey said the ride-hailing company is building processes and training employees to ensure that "the individual is never more important than the team-not ever". "For someone like me who deals with changing cultures, being at Uber is exactly where I want to be". Instead, the company plans to provide a strategy update and a look at the company's business, including plans to improve relations with its drivers.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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