On June 13, 2017, Uber released to its employees excerpts of a damning independent investigation report authored by independent investigators Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, attorneys with the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP. On February 19, 2017, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing allegations of harassment, discrimination and retaliation at the company during her tenure. She also decried the ineffectiveness of Uber’s policies and procedures in addressing such workplace issues. The very next day Uber hired Former Attorney General Holder and his law firm to conduct a review of the issues raised by Fowler as well as diversity and inclusion more broadly at Uber.
A special committee of the board of directors asked for an evaluation of 1) Uber’s workplace environment as it related to discrimination, harassment and retaliation; 2) whether the company’s policies and practices were sufficient to prevent and address these workplace issues; and 3) what steps Uber could take to ensure that its stated commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace was reflected not only in policies but “made real in the experiences of each of Uber’s employees.”
After interviewing more than 200 former and current employees, overseeing anonymous on line focus groups, gathering broad-based data from employees about Uber’s workplace culture and environment, and reviewing databases containing more than 3 million documents, a report issued suggesting that the company focus on four key areas: Tone at the Top, Trust, Transformation and Accountability. The summary of recommendations released to employees is twelve pages long and contains nuggets from which almost any business can learn. Bloggers and pundits disagree as to the most important takeaways, but one might start with three important things that Uber’s board of directors did once the extent of their dysfunction and the shortcomings of their leadership became public:
- They acted quickly and publicly in hiring a high powered investigation team.
- They were “all in” on the investigation giving the law firm apparently unfettered access to employees, former employees and documents.
- They were transparent with their employees providing copies of the recommendations which were quickly made public and then unanimously approved making the recommended changes.
Many businesses can learn from this approach. If you grow too fast and make mistakes, own it and fix them.
Some of the key recommendations from the report include:
- Making changes to senior leadership including reallocating the responsibilities of CEO and Founder Travis Kalanick and increasing the profile of and better empowering the company’s Head of Diversity.
- Using compensation to hold senior leaders accountable by incorporating ethical business practices, diversity and inclusion and other values from Uber’s Business Code of Conduct into its executive compensation program.
- Enhancing board oversight and internal controls.
- Improving human resources recordkeeping by, for example, using complaint tracking software to keep better track of employee complaints and data.
- Implementing mandatory leadership training for key senior leaders, training on handling complaints and conducting investigations for human resources personnel, significant supervisory training for managers, especially new or first time managers, and interview training for those who regularly interview candidates.
- Upgrading diversity and inclusion efforts in numerous ways including blind resume review, publishing diversity statistics, adopting a version of the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” (requiring that at least one female and one minority candidate be interviewed for every key position) and establishing an employee diversity advisory board.
The recommendations are thorough and well thought out. Although they may not be practical or applicable to every organization, there is much to be learned from Uber’s ownership of its mistakes. Whether they remain committed to following through and see meaningful change remains to be seen, but sharing the Holder recommendations with the world is a brave and good first step.