HR Take Aways from Uber’s Tumultuous Year

Uber may have started out 2017 in the worst possible way: with a string of scandals occurring  every month of the year so far. In case you missed it, here are the highlights:

January: Thousands of users delete Uber app

In political protest, more than 200,000 users delete the Uber app off of their cell phones in the course of one weekend, as part of the #DeleteUber movement. The protest developed after Uber drivers were seen operating during the taxi strike at JFK airport where drivers were protesting Trump’s travel ban. Additionally, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was intensely scrutinized for his ties with Trump as a member on Trump’s economic advisory council.

February 21: Sexism and gender bias claims in blog post by former employee

Former Uber Engineer Susan Fowler wrote a blog post about her experiences at the company. In the post, that went viral, Fowler reported an HR nightmare scenario in which her manager propositioned her for sex. After reporting the incident to HR, they told her that the manager would only be given a warning since this was his first offense. After which, the very same manager threatened to fire her for reporting the incident to HR.

February 22: The New York Times published an expose about Uber’s “Aggressive and Unrestrained Workplace Culture”

The very next day after Fowler’s blog went viral, the New York Times published its expose about the company which supported Fowlers report and suggested that her’s was not an isolated event. In addition to validating sexual harassment claims the reports also cited that employees did cocaine during a company retreat.

February 23: Uber is sued by its investor Google

Google sues Uber or allegedly using stolen technology. The suit claims that a group of former Google engineers stole laser sensor technology from Google’s self-driving car and implemented it into Uber self-driving car prototypes.

February 28: A video showing Kalanick engaged in a heated argument with an Uber driver surfaces

The video, published by Bloomberg, shows CEO Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver over falling fares.

March 17: A report reveals Uber’s use of a controversial data collection tool

The tool, called “Greyball” was allegedly used to collect data from Uber’s app to identify and evade officials in cities where Uber was banned or being resisted by law enforcement.

March 20: A total of seven executives have left the company

what you can take take away from these events:

A functional HR department is vital to any large organization

It can be easy for HR departments, and the value they provide, to be overlooked. Except that is when it comes time for hiring new talent. But an inappropriate workplace event occurs, HR departments are vital to conflict resolution. The fact that Uber employees were not surprised to hear that the sexual harassment and discrimination incidents had occurred does not reflect well on the culture of the company, something the HR department is also responsible for managing. A healthy HR department should build a culture of inclusion: one that listens and responds to employee concerns, and has equal repercussions for all employees despite their standing in the company.  

This is everyone’s problem

This kind of incident is not just an HR or managerial problem. This is something that affects every employee at the company. A female employee still working at the company, took to her personal blog to point out, “Without a doubt, this is a bad situation, and Uber has a lot to clean up,” Lucido said. “But this was a problem last week, and no matter how much we shouted about it, no one was listening. As you’re sitting there, reading this post, thanking your lucky stars that your company isn’t like this, remember that the contents of Susan’s post were surprising specifically because Uber employees didn’t think that it was a problem.” “This is everyone’s problem,” she said. It comes down to a company culture problem.

There are other places to go if you can’t find help from your HR department

If HR has made it clear that they don’t have your back, it’s time to start looking for support elsewhere. If the complaint is a very serious one, alert the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the most extreme cases, if you feel that your safety has been threatened you can report the incident to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Also, it’s a good idea to look into anti-discrimination laws in your state. In some cases, managers can actually be personally liable for punitive damages

Take responsibility and leadership in times of company crisis

If you are in an executive or leadership position at a company during a time of internal crisis, this is the time , more than ever, to step up and take responsibility. An absentee leader is a really bad look for a company in crisis. Uber’s first CEO, current board member, and head of operations, Ryan Graves remained largely absent during Uber’s challenging period–a marked absence considering the HR department reported to Graves directly. While current CEO Kalanick has commented on all of the above scandals, the fact that Graves oversees the department involved in the scandal yet remains silent is not a reassuring position of leadership to take. 

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