women in tech

Eric Holder, Uber Employees to Conduct ‘Independent Review’ of Sexism Claims

Eric Holder. Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

After bungling its response to last month’s #DeleteUber campaign, the ride-hailing company is moving swiftly in response to allegations of rampant sexual harassment at the company from a former employee. On Sunday, engineer Susan J. Fowler, who left Uber in December, published a blog post claiming that human resources ignored repeated sexual harassment complaints and her manager threatened retaliation for her speaking up. In an email to company employees on Monday, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been hired to oversee “an independent review” — with help from an Uber board member, the head of human resources, and an attorney who works for the company.

“It is my number one priority that we come through this a better organization, where we live our values and fight for and support those who experience injustice,” said Kalanick.

On Sunday, Kalanick said he’d instructed Liane Hornsey, Uber’s new chief of human resources, to probe the allegations. Arianna Huffington, who sits on Uber’s board, announced she would work with Hornsey to “conduct a full independent investigation.” Now they’re joining the review conducted by Holder’s team, according to Kalanick’s memo, along with Uber in-house attorney Angela Padilla.

Several Uber critics questioned how a review involving several company employees could be considered “independent.” The Verge noted that Holder has also done business with Uber:

Uber retains his law firm, Covington & Burling, for advice on safety issues. Holder even advocated for Uber last summer by sending letters to officials to drop policies mandating fingerprint-based background checks for drivers. Holder’s former chief of staff and Covington employee, Margaret Richardson, also sits on Uber’s safety advisory board.

Allegations of sexism are not new for Uber (or Silicon Valley). Several years ago, a top Uber executive suggested a smear campaign against a female journalist, and the company has been accused of not doing enough to ensure the safety of female passengers. Last spring, Uber rebuffed demands to release statistics on the gender and racial makeup of its workforce, but on Monday, Kalanick said the company would begin releasing diversity reports. He said 15.1 percent of the company’s technical staff are women, compared to 17 percent at Facebook and 18 percent at Google. He said only 10 percent of Twitter employees in technical roles are women, but it appears that number is too low.

Here’s the full text of Kalanick’s memo, which was obtained by Recode:

Team,

It’s been a tough 24 hours. I know the company is hurting, and understand everyone has been waiting for more information on where things stand and what actions we are going to take.

First, Eric Holder, former US Attorney General under President Obama, and Tammy Albarran – both partners at the leading law firm Covington & Burling– will conduct an independent review into the specific issues relating to the work place environment raised by Susan Fowler, as well as diversity and inclusion at Uber more broadly. Joining them will be Arianna Huffington, who sits on Uber’s board, Liane Hornsey, our recently hired Chief Human Resources Officer, and Angela Padilla, our Associate General Counsel. I expect them to conduct this review in short order.

Second, Arianna is flying out to join me and Liane at our all hands meeting tomorrow to discuss what’s happened and next steps. Arianna and Liane will also be doing smaller group and one-on-one listening sessions to get your feedback directly.

Third, there have been many questions about the gender diversity of Uber’s technology teams. If you look across our engineering, product management, and scientist roles, 15.1% of employees are women and this has not changed substantively in the last year. As points of reference, Facebook is at 17%, Google at 18% and Twitter is at 10%. Liane and I will be working to publish a broader diversity report for the company in the coming months.

I believe in creating a workplace where a deep sense of justice underpins everything we do. Every Uber employee should be proud of the culture we have and what we will build together over time. What is driving me through all this is a determination that we take what’s happened as an opportunity to heal wounds of the past and set a new standard for justice in the workplace. It is my number one priority that we come through this a better organization, where we live our values and fight for and support those who experience injustice.

Thanks,

Travis
Eric Holder, Uber Employees to Probe Company Sexism Claims