Eric Holder’s investigation into Uber’s corporate culture starts with an action item that has been staring the $50 billion startup in the face for months: “Review and Reallocate the Responsibilities of Travis Kalanick.”
That’s the first of 47 recommendations the former U.S. attorney general made Tuesday for how to clean up a toxic workplace culture at the ride-hailing behemoth. In response, Uber CEO Kalanick announced he’ll be taking an indefinite “leave of absence,” and all decision-making at the company distributed to his management team.
The recommendations come after a seeming litany of dark accusations of sexual misconduct, discrimination, and boorish workplace behavior. But even so, Kalanick cast his coming time outside the company on clichéd Silicon Valley terms: “to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve,” he wrote an email to Uber staff.
The company did not disclose the full report at an all-hands meeting in San Francisco to on Tuesday. Instead, it released a 13-page list of recommendations to the Uber board, which the board approved at an hours-long meeting on Sunday.
“While change does not happen overnight, we’re committed to rebuilding trust with our employees, riders and drivers,” said Uber HR chief Liane Hornsey in a statement.
The contours of the culture crisis at Uber are well-known by now. The crisis began in February when departing Uber engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti described in a blog post experiences outlining a systemic discrimination and sexual harassment problem at the company.
Rigetti’s account went viral, and Uber’s leadership quickly announced that Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran of the law firm Covington & Burling would be leading an internal investigation into Uber’s workplace culture. From the time Rigetti published her blog post, at least nine senior executives have either resigned or been asked to leave the company.
The departures include Uber’s president, its head of PR, its head of engineering, its head of product, its head of mapping, and its Asia-Pacific regional chief. Some of these exits were voluntary (like PR chief Rachel Whetstone) and others were not (like Asia-Pacific exec Eric Alexander, who reportedly obtained the medical records of an Indian Uber passenger who was raped by her driver).
The recommendations issued by the Holder’s law firm Covington & Burling report are far-reaching, and involve substantial changes to Uber’s management structure. They include:
- using the company’s ongoing search for a COO to find someone who can focus on implementing these recommendations
- creating an “oversight committee” at the board of directors-level that would “oversee Uber’s efforts and enhance a culture of ethical business practices, diversity, and inclusion within the organization.”
- expanding the powers of Uber’s board of directors, adding members to it, and naming an official board chairperson.
Some of the planned fixes are more granular, according to Bloomberg. They include renaming the so-called “War Room” conference room the “Peace Room,” and scrapping some of the company’s infamous 14 core values, such as “Always Be Hustlin’.”
Responses to the report’s findings have been mixed. Susan Fowler Rigetti retweeted her own tweet from last week in which she said the Uber saga “is not about diversity and inclusion, it’s about laws being broken. Harassment, discrimination, retaliation are illegal.”
“I’m going to keep saying this until things actually change,” she added Tuesday.
Freada Kapor Klein, who is an investor in Uber along with her husband Mitch Kapor, told VICE News in an interview that while she had been previously critical of Uber’s management of the investigation, she is “impressed with the final product.” She and her husband together run the Kapor Center, a Silicon Valley organization focused on corporate inclusion.
Particularly “unusual and important,” Kapor Klein said, was that the Holder report singled out Kalanick’s role in the mess because “the tone is always set at the top, and that’s particularly true in a startup.”
Whether Kalanick will be capable of running Uber again if and when he returns after his leave of absence is not yet clear, Kapor Klein added.
“If he returns, it would be to a somewhat different company, with a completely different set of arrangements with the board and senior management team,” she said. “Part of what he must now be wrestling with is can he get comfortable thriving under a different set of arrangements?”