Uber’s meteoric eight-year rise has been a fascinating example of a revolutionary and exciting company quickly developing a negative public opinion through scandal. When Uber burst onto the scene, its generally lower fares and game-changing user experience meant that most had nothing but admiration for the app. Since then, though, a seemingly constant stream of negative stories around the company’s internal and external working practices have somewhat sullied its glistening reputation.
From dubiously timed dynamic pricing hikes during natural disasters, to alleged wide-scale disruption of competition services, to the issues that arise with treating drivers like contractors rather than employees, Uber has had a difficult time. The company’s corporate culture is so negatively viewed that some human resource managers actually see the company as a bad mark against a candidates name, with backstabbing and corporate opportunism reportedly rife. In fact, Leslie Miley, a veteran software engineer, told the Guardian: ‘If you did well in that environment upholding those values, I probably don’t want to work with you.’
The negative image arguably peaked in February, when a video of Travis Kalanick surfaced in which the Uber CEO appeared to argue with a driver, saying: ‘Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own s**t. They blame everything in their life on somebody else.’ Kalanick later expressed regret over the incident in an email to Uber employees, as well as the fact he plans to seek ‘leadership help’. The email, which was clearly written with the intent for it to be shared far wider than the walls of Uber itself, will do little to repair the company’s ‘brilliant jerks’ reputation.
But issues with Uber’s treatment of staff are arguably dwarfed by its long-term reputation for having a reportedly misogynistic culture. Just this month, Uber lost two senior executives as a direct result of cultural disagreements within the company. The most high profile defector has been Jeff Jones, who joined Uber in September 2016 (from Target) with the express mission of cleaning up the company’s reputation. Since then, the company has been subject to a series of sexual harassment allegations, alongside lawsuits and arguments with regulators over Uber’s working practices.
The tumultuous situation at the company led to an emergency press call on Tuesday. Hosted by board member Arianna Huffington and three of the company’s highest-ranking female staff members. Kalanick’s absence was subject to questions, but the panel cited his search for a new COO as the reason. Whether you see the all-female press call as a cynical move or a positive one, it’s clear that Uber is looking to make itself fashionable again, after initial public excitement has given way to pockets of disdain and frequent calls for users to boycott the service.
In the face of this negativity, though, Uber has continued to grow. According to TechCrunch, Uber grew more in early 2017 than in early 2016 despite the plethora of issues that surfaced in that time. There is such a disconnect between the culture in the Uber headquarters and the average user hailing a ride that you have to question whether or not corporate culture actually makes a difference to profits. February saw over 200,000 people delete their Uber accounts following a #DeleteUber social media campaign but, with the service so ingrained in people’s lives, it seems that Uber’s problems are primarily internal.