Think Uber’s Problems Stop at Its Management and Culture? Think Again.

Uber and Silicon Valley have much deeper problems as well.

Uber and Silicon Valley have much deeper problems as well. (Illustration by Heske van Doornen.)

This post appeared in The Minskys.

Keep track of all of Uber’s problems with The Big List of Uber’s Controversies.

In February 2017, Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing the sexual harassment and gender discrimination she experienced during her time as an engineer at Uber, the ride-hailing company. Although this was not the first time that Uber had been accused of creating a workplace where pervasive sexism and discrimination thrive, Fowler’s piece struck a chord. It built on a wave of criticism of the company from an earlier public relations disaster — Uber’s missteps following protests of President Trump’s racist executive order at John F. Kennedy Airport starting on January 28th and the resulting #DeleteUber campaign — and emboldened others to report sexual and other misconduct at the company (215 complaints about its corporate workplace have been filed).

While the criticisms levied at Uber are generally applicable to Silicon Valley as a whole, public ire was now focused on Uber, which was having a public relations crisis seemingly every week. The one-time $70 billion-valued private company (five times more valuable than the grocery store Whole Foods, which has 431 supermarkets, and was recently acquired by Amazon) was under immense pressure from even investors too. In response, it agreed to two investigations, both led by law firms. One investigated the workplace complaints that had been lodged against the company, leading to the firing of over 20 employees as well as disciplinary action against others. The second’s task was to investigate Uber’s corporate culture and develop recommendations to restructure the company to try to address the root causes of the problems. This team was led by former Obama administration Attorney General, and former Uber advisor, Eric Holder.

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East Baltimore Urban Renewal

Washington and Ashland Ave Batimore

The corner of Washington Ave. and Ashland Ave. in August 2011 (top) and September 2015 (bottom). Via Google Street View.

This was originally written in November 2014.

Johns Hopkins University Hospital sits directly next to a very poor East Baltimore community. The hospital campus faces inward with iron fences and private guards in kiosks surrounding the entrances. The subway system reaches the campus and goes no farther. In March 2014, The New York Times ran an article in the Arts & Design section about a redevelopment project in this neighborhood that included a new public school operated by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and Morgan State University. Like most writing about poverty for an audience with no real interest in poverty, the article conveyed how difficult poverty is to solve, creating no expectations that what followed would solving anything, and served to bolster the reputation of a prestigious institution. JHU, described as a “great university,” was attempting a “grand urban experiment.”

The new K-8 school is one part of a greater redevelopment project and serves as the Arts & Design “hook,” since it contains supposedly innovative things like “a community center, library, auditorium, and gym” that are actually standard in properly funded public school facilities. Past these benefits (and buried in the article), is the price the community paid for this project:

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