This post appeared in The Minskys.
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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.