Uber is another lesson in tech ‘bro’ culture

Uber is another lesson in tech ‘bro’ culture

SAN FRANCISCO – For today’s lesson in clueless corporate culture, we submit Uber.

Aghast a journalist had the audacity to criticize a company promotion as sexist and then delete the ride-sharing app, one of its executives came up with a scheme to go CIA on PandoDaily Editor Sarah Lacy and follow her movements to dig up dirt.

The executive went so far as to suggest spending $1 million to hire a team of spies — plumbers? — to troll for personal information on critical reporters and their families. (Save yourself time, Uber: My family and I are deadly dull.)

Emil Michael has apologized on Twitter to Lacy. “My comments were wrong and I deeply regret them,” he wrote.

Uber said in a statement that it will not conduct “oppo research” on journalists. As the media storm increased Tuesday, CEO Travis Kalanick offered his own apology, also via Twitter, and distanced himself from Michael’s comments.

But, as of this writing, Michael still works for Uber.

“If anyone took this seriously, the second they heard about this, he would have been fired,” Lacy told USA TODAY senior technology writer Jessica Guynn.

Lacy also points out that the company’s investors and board of directors have been silent since the news broke.

“I don’t see any reason to think the company is going to back down on this. This is not a company that backs down,” Lacy said. “We are seeing an escalation of this really scary behavior that goes completely unchecked. Every single time something happens they just wait out the news cycle and then keep doing it.”

Yes, the conflagration will fade, as these things usually do, in the tumult of the 24-hour news spin cycle.

But this disturbing incident illustrates yet again the profound disconnect between some tech execs and the rest of the world.

It also underscores the industry’s woefully inadequate record on diversity within its ranks.

Uber has not released numbers on the composition of its workforce, as Google, Apple, Facebook and others have. But it has repeatedly come under fire for what many consider a sexist “bro culture.”

It’s hard to imagine a company with a more diverse leadership team threatening to invade the privacy of a journalist and her family; running a promotion in France that promises to pair Uber riders with “hot chicks”; or turning on female passengers who have accused drivers of assault or bad behavior, not to mention having the CEO call the company “Boob-er” because it’s been a honeypot for women.

o those who dismiss this as just a misstep, consider what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said a few weeks ago. He suggested it was “good karma” for women to wait for a raise instead of asking for one. Nadella later apologized.

Bottom line: This is yet another example of a tech company — usually run by young, white males —insulated from everyone else.

USA TODAY and other media outlets have pushed for a national conversation on the benefits of diversity and inclusion within the ranks of uber-wealthy tech companies.

Many of them have responded positively. Uber has not responded at all.

This is a company that is looking to expand around the globe. It has been valued by its investors at $18 billion and it’s gunning for a $30 billion valuation.

Too bad, some of its attitudes are morally bankrupt.


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