Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Launches Investigation Into Sexual Harassment Claims

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will lead an independent investigation into claims made by former employee Susan Fowler.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Launches Investigation Into Sexual Harassment Claims
Image credit: Bloomberg | Getty Images
Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber.

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In response to a blog post by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler in which she detailed claims of sexual harassment, CEO Travis Kalanick sent an email to his employees regarding an investigation into what she described.

In the memo, obtained by The New York Times, Kalanick wrote that an independent review of Fowler’s claims will be overseen by Eric Holder, who served as U.S. Attorney General in the Obama administration, as well as Tammy Albarran. Both are partners at the law firm Covington & Burling.

Arianna Huffington, who became Uber’s first woman board member in April 2016, Liane Hornsey, who has been the company’s chief human resources officer since November 2016, and Angela Padilla, Uber’s associate general counsel, will all have a role in conducting the investigation. Kalanick wrote that they would be “doing smaller group and one-on-one listening sessions to get [employee] feedback directly.”

Related: Uber Under Fire Once Again Following Sexism and Harassment Claims

Fowler, who worked at Uber for a year, wrote in her blog post, “When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25 percent women. … On my last day at Uber, I calculated the percentage of women who were still in the org. Out of over 150 engineers in the SRE teams, only 3 percent were women.”

In his email, Kalanick addressed the issue of gender diversity at Uber “If you look across our engineering, product management and scientist roles, 15.1 percent of employees are women and this has not changed substantively in the last year.”

He cited Facebook’s 17 percent of women employees, Google’s 18 percent and Twitter’s 10 percent as points of reference, and he said that he and Hornsey were working toward publishing a more comprehensive diversity report over the next few months.

Kalanick closed his email with a broad statement. “What is driving me through all of this is a determination that we take what’s happened as an opportunity to heal wounds of the past and set a new standard for justice in the workplace,” he wrote. “It is my number one priority that we come through this a better organization, where we live our values and and fight for and support those who experience injustice.”

Related: Uber Founder Resigns From Trump Council. Read His Full Text Explanation.

While Kalanick appears to be taking Fowler’s allegations seriously, some who have weighed in are questioning why it took this particular incident to spur action -- and to what extent the company’s culture as described by Fowler stems from actions and expectations of the CEO and other top executives.

In a blog post on Medium, David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails and co-founder of Basecamp, urged Uber users to delete their accounts, characterizing recent events at Uber -- both Kalanick’s resignation from President Trump’s Strategic & Policy Forum and the handling of Fowler’s claims -- as emblematic of a Silicon Valley culture that encourages growth but not accountability.  

“Move fast and break things. Disrupt! Whatever you need to do to keep the engine of growth firing at 110 percent, just do it. You can always release a contrite press release if you get caught. The memory of consumers and voters is short, so worry not. Which is exactly the route Kalanick is choosing at the moment.” Hansson wrote. “First, it was withdrawing from the Trump council after the chorus of #DeleteUber got loud enough to pose a threat to that still-unrealized billion-dollar valuation. Now it’s laughably trying to distance himself from the corporate culture he embodies because former employee, Susan J. Fowler, blew the whistle on her ‘very, very strange year at Uber.’”

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