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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Grobman

What We Can Learn from Uber's Experience About Preventing a Toxic Culture

Uber toxic culture

Uber has often been in the news lately, most recently with the ousting of its infamous CEO, Travis Kalanick. The picture that emerged from the multiple scandals of sexual harassment, IP violation, competitive espionage, and wild parties, among rest, was one of a toxic culture, orchestrated by that same CEO and other leaders in the company. Numerous articles have been written, condemning Kalanick, Uber, its investors, and everything else about the Silicon Valley tech bro culture. Very few of these articles had any useful suggestions for improvement. Ironically enough, one of the more interesting change management plans I have ever read comes from Uber itself. When the Susan Fowler (Uber employee who resigned a wrote a VERY detailed and sobering blog post about the sexual harassment she and other women endured at Uber) fiasco broke out in February, Uber’s board solicited former attorney general Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran from law firm Covington & Burley LLP (“CB”) to review the situation and present their recommendations. CB interviewed over 200 current and past employees, conducted online focus groups and surveys and collected over 3 million documents with the objective to evaluate: (1) Uber’s workplace environment for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation (2) Whether the company’s policies and practices were sufficient to prevent and properly address the above; and (3) what steps Uber could take to ensure that its commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace is reflected not only in the company’s policies but made real in the experiences of its employees The firm detailed a comprehensive plan with 49 recommendations for improvement in areas of:

  • Tone at the top,

  • Trust,

  • Transparency, and

  • Accountability

All recommendations were approved unanimously by the board of directors. Since then, Kalanick has been ousted, Uber fired 20 employees and sent 31 more to counseling and training and is still investigating 57 more cases of allegations of discrimination and harassment. For those of you with limited time, I highlight some of the recommendations that are closely relevant to the company’s strategy and touch the most important aspects of organizational culture change: PEOPLE, PROCCESSES and SYSTEMS.


  1. Reallocate some of the responsibilities of the CEO (I believe this one was a subtle hint to get rid of Kalanick who had personified the aforementioned culture and embedded it into the DNA of the firm)

  2. Hire a COO who comes from a diverse background, has experience with D&I (this one is more dubious, in my opinion) and has experience with improving institutional culture

  3. Leadership training and coaching for senior leaders, both focused on:

  • Effective leadership skills

  • Setting organizational goals

  • Leading employees,

  • People management skills

  • Exhibiting and modeling inclusive leadership to combat implicit bias

  • Encouraging a culture in which everyone gets heard in a manner in which they are comfortable and employees feel safe to propose ideas

  • Implementing necessary corporate controls and identifying breakdowns in others

  1. Significant training for managers, especially new and first-time managers, including unbiased interview skills training

  2. Solicit feedback from employees on a regular basis to track progress of D&I initiatives and give employees a forum to voice their concerns. Communicate outcomes to the organization


  1. Hold leadership accountable in its performance review for people management and diversity metrics

  2. Improve corporate governance: Enhance board independence and oversight (it’s incredible that this company is valued at $69Bn and only now they are discussing this seriously!)

  3. Broaden the scope of HR from recruiting organization to one that works to protect and retain employees

  4. ZERO-tolerance policy for substantiated complaints of discrimination and harassment, without regard to whether an employee is a “high performer” or a long-term employee

  5. Modify existing performance evaluation process to communicate goals and feedback more frequently to help employees better align to managers’ expectations, and introduce checks and balances to eliminate individual manager’s bias risk. Introduce a clearer criteria for promotions

  6. Address employee retention: conduct exit interviews (through third parties such as HR) to identify trends in employee turnover


  1. Human resources [system for] record keeping and a comprehensive multi-channel complaint process. This may sound like an unnecessary bureaucracy but this item includes a critical rational: “For example, if a complaint is substantiated but results in discipline other than termination of employment, relevant stakeholders should be able to easily identify whether prior complaints have been lodged to ensure that appropriate action is taken with respect to repeat offenders. Likewise, senior managers should be able to track whether certain organizations or managers give rise to multiple complaints.”

The report also includes the typical diversity and inclusion recommendations such as: elevating the role of the CDO (chief diversity officer), setting diversity goals and keeping progress, hiring from a more diverse pool like HSBUs (historically black colleges and universities), implementing the Rooney rule (requiring to interview at least one underrepresented monitory candidate for open positions), sponsoring and mentoring, etc. I didn’t include most of the D&I suggestion in my list because I strongly believe that diversity and inclusion cannot be forced on people. If you want a diverse organization, you first need to create a culture that values different talents and styles and protects employees from abuse, then diversity and inclusion will be organic part of the culture rather than a lip service to compliance. You can read the full report here.

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