After a string of scandals, new HR chief acknowledges the “aggression” in the ride-hailing company’s corporate culture “needs to be shaved back.”
SAN FRANCISCO — After a string of scandals this year, Uber has rushed to repair its corporate culture. The ride-hailing company has started an internal investigation into workplace practices, issued apologies for some of its behavior and has had several female executives and a board member speak up on its behalf.
Uber continued its mea- culpa tour Tuesday by releasing its first report detailing the composition of its workforce, a report that depicted an overwhelmingly male employee base and showed that the largest ethnic group is white. In addition, the company forcefully repudiated its past, saying its intense, masculine culture went too far.
“Every strength, in excess, is a weakness,” Liane Hornsey, the recently appointed chief human-resources officer, said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. “What has driven Uber to immense success — its aggression, the hard-charging attitude — has toppled over. And it needs to be shaved back.”
Uber diversity by the numbers
Job diversity at Uber is in line with the Silicon Valley. Internal report covering full-time employees, but not drivers, found:
of technical jobs are held by men.
of workforce are women.
of employees in U.S. are black.
of employees in U.S. are Hispanic.
Fixing Uber’s culture and image has become a top priority for the privately held company, which is valued at nearly $70 billion. Last month, Uber’s dysfunctions were thrust into the public eye after a former engineer detailed her experience with sexual harassment and a lack of support from human resources at the company. Employees have described a cutthroat, political environment among some managers. Scrutiny has fallen on Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, who helped found the company and has set its tone.
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In recent weeks, Uber has moved quickly to shed that past. The company hired Eric H. Holder Jr., the former U.S. attorney general, and others to conduct an investigation of the workplace. Arianna Huffington, a board member, has repeatedly said the company would no longer hire “brilliant jerks.”
Hornsey, a former executive at Google, has also moved into the hot seat. She joined Uber late last year from SoftBank and has essentially been given a blank check — money, head count, resources — to revamp the workplace processes and managerial styles put into place when the company was still a fledgling startup.
Along with resources, Hornsey has embarked on a “listening tour” with employees who wish to share grievances. She is reworking the human-resources structure and how Uber rates employee performance, long considered a problem area for insiders. And she spoke on behalf of the company about the diversity report, which covered full-time employees but not drivers, who work as freelancers.
The report’s numbers were stark. Only 36 percent of Uber’s workforce is made up of women, while the technology jobs at the company — some 85 percent — are overwhelmingly held by men. In terms of racial composition, 50 percent of Uber’s employees in the United States are white, while 9 percent are black and 6 percent are Hispanic.
“We have to build more trust with our employees, and transparency will build that trust,” Hornsey said of the report.
In the past, Uber has resisted publishing a diversity report, current and former employees have said. In a statement Tuesday, Hornsey said, “I know that we have been too slow in publishing our numbers — and that the best way to demonstrate our commitment to change is through transparency. And to make progress, it’s important we measure what matters.”
Compared to statistics at other technology companies, Uber’s diversity figures are not that different — and are modestly better than some.
According to Google’s most recent diversity report, for example, just 31 percent of its workforce are women. Google also said 81 percent of its technical jobs were held by men, while 1 percent of its employees in the United States were black and 3 percent were Hispanic. Many of the numbers stack up roughly along the same lines at Apple and Facebook.
At Uber, issues of internal culture may have been compounded by its dizzying growth in the past few years. The service is available in hundreds of cities in more than 70 countries and completes hundreds of thousands of trip requests a day. In the past year alone, the company’s employee base has doubled to more than 12,000.
That turbocharged expansion has come at a cost, employees have said. Growth, they said, was prioritized above anything else. That skewed the development of the organization into something that embraced the “cult of the individual,” Hornsey said.
Top performers were rewarded and promoted into management positions. Some 63 percent of managers had never previously held a leadership position, and Uber did not provide much training for new managers, some said.
“For the first several years, we had to just focus on executing our operational goals, and that was kind of the be-all, end-all,” said Nicole Cuellar, an operations and logistics manager who has worked at Uber for nearly four years. “There was never the need to think about our culture like that. And I don’t think it sunk in until we all had this really gut-wrenching experience.”
Some current and former employees have expressed concern over whether Uber will be able to change, given the deep-seated trait of aggressive individualism that has been fostered.
But others like Tasneem Minadakis, who is active in Uber’s LadyEng organization, an internal group at the company that supports and campaigns for women, said they have been galvanized by the efforts to fix the culture. In total, Minadakis said LadyEng has more than 500 employees eager to enact change.
“They really do believe that this company can be a force for good,” Hornsey said. “If it could only stop shooting itself in the foot.”