Leaked audio from a Tuesday all-hands meeting shows that Uber, still struggling to win back the public's goodwill since the company was accused of widespread misogyny and sexual harassment earlier this year, can't help but continue on its path of self-destruction.
Embattled CEO Travis Kalanick Takes Leave Of Absence In Wake Of Uber's Sexual Harassment Investigation
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick will take a leave of absence from the company he founded and the company will make changes to its culture, following a highly-anticipated investigation into sexual harassment and toxic workplace culture at the ride-hailing startup.
The ostensible purpose of the long-awaited meeting was to announce CEO Travis Kalanick's leave of absence and a series of recommendations stemming from an investigation into the company's culture. But in audio of the meeting obtained by Yahoo! Finance, billionaire board member David Bonderman interjects when Arianna Huffington (the only woman on the board) speaks to the company about the merits of including more women in senior positions. The brief, baffling exchange went as follows:
— Julia La Roche (@SallyPancakes) June 13, 2017
To recap, a billionaire septuagenarian, born just a couple of decades after women could legally vote in the US, casually cracked a joke about women talking too much at a meeting explicitly prompted by widespread accusations of misogyny. That's like if an accused arsonist asked, "Anybody got a light?" at his own trial. That's like if a US politician wore a red star pin to a Russian collusion hearing.
But let's take a deep dive here, because Bonderman's joke -- straight out of 1942, when he was born -- says something about what's fundamentally wrong at Uber. The point of a wisecrack is to make people comfortable, right? To smooth over an awkward situation, yeah? If so, then Bonderman apparently wanted to signal to everyone (especially the men) to relax because Uber remains a place where an idiotic, dated joke about women is still totally acceptable.
"Don't worry, men!" the joke essentially said. "All this talk of widespread change won't actually impact the company. You can still have fun here. Non-men need to chill."
Unless Uber holds him accountable, the company will have tacitly confirmed that casual misogyny has survived the investigations, completely undermining its (already weak) attempt at rebranding Uber as a place that's only as sexist as other tech companies.
In an internal message obtained by Gizmodo, Bonderman later apologised to Uber's staff:
I want to apologise to my fellow board member for a disrespectful comment that was directed at her during today's discussion. It was inappropriate. I also want to apologise to all Uber employees who were offended by the remark. I deeply regret it.
The post-scandal rebrand is off to a horrific start.
Update: According to the New York Times, Bonderman is resigning. He released a statement that reads in part, “I need to hold myself to the same standards that we’re asking Uber to adopt. Therefore, I have decided to resign from Uber’s board of directors, effective tomorrow morning.” He says that his comment “came across in a way that was the opposite of what I intended, but I understand the destructive effect it had, and I take full responsibility for that”. Arianna Huffington said that she appreciates “David doing the right thing for Uber at this time of critical cultural changes at the company”.