Uber today provided an update on its investigation into alleged sexual harassment and discriminatory practices at the company.
“No woman should ever have to choose between her career and sexual harassment,” said Arianna Huffington, a director of the company, on a conference call with reporters. Liane Hornsey, the chief human resources officer who has been at the company just 11 weeks, and Rachel Holt, head of U.S. and Canada, also participated in the call. Appointing three women to address this issue seems like a calculated decision to send a strong message to the female rank and file at Uber. The only question is whether these efforts are too little too late.
“We wanted to have the people responsible for making things happen on the call,” said Hornsey, defending the absence of CEO Travis Kalanick and Bill Gurley, an investor from Benchmark, who she said were busy interviewing COO candidates.
The first topic of discussion was leadership. “Change starts at the top,” Huffington said. “Travis accepted responsibility and apologized to the company” for the recent chaos. Further, Huffington pointed to Kalanick’s desire to hire a COO as evidence of his commitment to fixing things.
“There is a real appetite for change internally,” said Huffington. “It’s coming from everyone from Travis downward.”
Hornsey described more than 100 listening sessions the company convened with groups of employees to better understand what people wanted to change. She repeated an earlier promise to publish a diversity report by the end of this month, and cited tangible progress underway like removing unconscious bias from job descriptions and conducting more training.
Hornsey sees the main challenge to changing company culture as overcoming “a cult of the individual.” She explained that “we need to expend considerable energy to make sure the individual is never more important than the team.”
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. Kalanick quickly issued a statement in response and tweeted that he had asked Hornsey to conduct an “urgent investigation” and warned that any perpetrators would be fired. Kalanick then hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to lead the investigation into sexual harassment. A few weeks later another female engineer came forward with additional allegations.
The fallout from the turmoil has already claimed one top executive. Over the weekend, the company’s president Jeff Jones resigned over open differences with the company’s management. “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business,” Jones told Reuters. He added that he wished the “thousands of amazing people at the company” well.
Earlier this month, the company announced that it was looking to hire a COO to help reform the culture, or as Kalanick wrote on a company blog, “a peer who can partner with me to write the next chapter in our journey.” Huffington said that Gurley, who has been described as Kalanick’s mentor, will play a major role in the hiring process.
Holt focused her remarks on working to improve relationships with Uber’s drivers and echoing support for a COO. “I’m excited to bring in leadership that I can learn from,” she said.
Huffington asked for patience as Holder’s investigation continues: “Travis continues to hold himself ultimately responsible for all the mistakes the company has made.” She declined to speculate on the results of the investigation and said that Holder’s findings will be presented to a Board sub-committee of directors Huffington, Gurley, and David Bonderman of TPG, not to management. Huffington confirmed that the report results will be made public.
The company provided a copy of prepared remarks by Huffington, Hornsey, and Holt following the call.