I stood on the sidewalk next to a line of rancid dumpsters on some street in Spain, quickening my breaths as my desperation climbed. Having felt ambitious, I had previously signed up to run a marathon in Valencia during my time studying abroad. I trained like a pro, tapering and carb-loading in the weeks prior to the race, so I was ready to go. Everything had happened according to plan, but the inevitable moment of panic arrived just hours before the start. 5:30 a.m. the morning of the race found me glued to the sidewalk outside my AirBnB, with less than an hour to get to the starting line 2.5 miles away from me. I couldn’t make it two steps, let alone that distance. I needed to save my legs, and I couldn’t risk any sort of energy loss before my run. Yet, there wasn’t a cab in sight.
I’ve never wanted an Uber so badly in my life.
What is Uber’s History?
The Uber founders created the app based on a similar experience. Back in 2008, Travis Kalanick was in Paris, traveling for a conference. He’d paused life, packed his bags and crossed oceans for this appointment. Everything went smoothly. That is, until he walked outside to catch a cab, and couldn’t find a single one. Now, Kalanick’s meeting might not have been quite as serious as my marathon, but we can give the guy some credit here. He recognized a common issue, and tried his hand at solving it with his partner, Garrett Camp, by creating an app. And so, Uber was born.
What’s up with Uber and their Controversies?
Uber has become a household term and a constant on your credit card bill—not that your parents are too happy about it. Yet, as helpful as this innovation has been in, it’s also battled the trials and tribulations of corporate adolescence. These struggles have been pretty public, too, in case you haven’t checked Twitter, looked at a newspaper or turned on your TV in the past few months.
February 19, 2017 – Susan Fowler published a blog post in which she claims that her supervisors at Uber sexually harassed her. This was published after she left her job as an engineer at the company. Kalanick publicly pushed for an investigation based on her allegation.
February 22, 2017 – New York Times circulates an article about Uber’s hostile business environment titled, “Inside Uber’s Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture.” This contained various claims from employees other than Fowler who claimed to have similar experiences in which they brought sexual harassment claims to Uber’s HR, but nothing happened.
February 23, 2017 – Google sued Uber for allegedly stealing self-driving car technology from its partner company, Waymo.
February 28, 2017 – Bloomberg published the dash cam footage of Kalanick heatedly arguing with a driver about declining fares. Not a good look.
February 27, 2017 – Supervisors asked Amit Singhal, Senior Vice President of Engineering, to resign after they found out that he had been accused of sexual harassment at his previous position with Google.
March 3, 2017 – News came out that Uber had been using a program called Greyball. And apparently, not with the best intentions. Uber asserted that the tool recognizes false accounts, and that it was created to protect drivers from anyone intending to cause them or the company harm. But in reality, Uber drivers were using it to weed out fake accounts that authorities had created to curb Uber use in cities where it was prohibited.
March 19, 2017 – Jeff Jones resigned from his position as President, claiming his “beliefs and approach to leadership” did not align with the work culture at Uber.
June 7, 2017 – A story comes out that an Uber executive, Eric Alexander, possessed the medical records for a woman raped by her Uber driver in India. He was fired.
June 8, 2017 – Kalanick sent an email to the entire company about the policy for having sex on the upcoming 2013 retreat in Miami. Recode published this email online. And it wasn’t exactly professional.
June 11, 2017 – Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General, recommended that Uber take some steps to improve the company culture and environment. Uber listened, and made some changes like cutting back on Kalanick’s influence and strengthening the HR process of filing a complaint.
June 13, 2017 – Kalanick takes a leave of absence after his mother’s death. A board member, David Bonderman, also resigns after making a sexist comment in a meeting.
June 21, 2017 – Kalanick “resigns,” but that’s the nice way of putting it. Really, he’s forced out by a bunch of angry investors.
The bottom line?
Think of corporate Uber as that creepy frat on campus. The “bro” culture is blatantly sexist and far from professional. Between the sexual commentary flooding the workplace, and the ill management of a rape case, it’s clear that Uber is an ethical mess. And it’s getting plenty of attention for it.
So, how are investors looking to revamp the company culture? Well, they started from the top. They ousted the founder and CEO. But the questions remain. Will this make a difference? Will the risks of sexual offense change for Uber users and employees? If office members are allowed to maintain this highly threatening behavior, naturally drivers will do the same.
What do college students know?
“I know Uber had a controversy because they treat their female employees at corporate really badly, and some of them quit—also that they don’t have a lot of female drivers. I also heard it’s shi**y because they don’t pay their drivers enough,” Boston University senior Jayne Evans said.
“I know there’s been sexism and harassments but not much details,” Babson College alumnus Hugo Finkelstein said.
“It’s kind of scary to order Ubers by yourself being a girl, its always less safe and I’ve heard stories of girls being harassed and disrespected. Some of the Ubers are also kind of rude,” Boston College sophomore Thali Boruchovitch said.
“Uber is having a scandal and the male executive stepped down. He sounds guilty,” Wisconsin University junior Stephanie Browne said.
“I know that Uber is one of many applications that have come up in the past few years where users can get a ride to basically anywhere they want to go by just clicking a button on their phone. They have faced many controversies from the start. One of these controversies is issues with sexual harassment,” University of Rhode Island junior Katie Johnson said.
How much do they really use it?
“I use Uber more often here—I live in England so I always use black cabs there; those drivers are educated, well-paid and trustworthy—but there is no such option in Boston so I use Uber two to three times a week,” Evans said.
“Probably four to five times a week,” Finkelstein said.
“I use Uber a lot, over the break and during the weekends especially,” Boruchovitch said.
“I use Uber about three times a week,” Browne said.
“I use uber pretty often especially when I’m at school just because it is a lot easier than driving and worrying about finding parking,” Johnson said.
Can this culture be changed?
“I think it’s impossible to change sexist culture in a company like Uber until we address sexist culture in the world, particularly the business/start-up world, which no one will acknowledge,” Evans said.
“I think it’s feasible,” Finkelstein said.
“I think that in the beginning the company had less of a problem because of the smaller number of cars. Its harder to keep control over something so big,” Boruchovitch said.
“I do think it’s possible to change sexist culture in a company. Women in executive and leadership positions should lead the effort of changing Uber’s current workplace environment,” Browne said.
“I think that it’s possible to change this kind of sexist culture within the company. I think that they would need to go to the root of the company and look to the people in charge to be sure that they are acting professionally and not in a sexist way and then take it from there. I truly believe that a company strongly reflects on the leaders,” Johnson said.
Should we trust Uber?
“I think Uber should be trusted as a safe mode of transportation, but at the same time people should be careful,” Browne said. If you’re a student looking to become an employee, there’s no way of telling whether Uber will get its act together in terms of its work environment. If you’re a student using the service, I’d definitely warn you to stay on your toes. That sexist attitude may or may not have any effects on your experience. You don’t have to avoid it completely (Uber’s still a solid option for getting home while tipsy), but be cautious. Be more aware, and make it a rule not to take rides alone after 7 p.m. It might seem excessive, but it’s definitely better than the possible risks. Check out these tips for keeping your ride safe:
1. Wait inside until the car arrives.
2. Verify the vehicle using the model description and license plate in the app. You can even see the driver’s picture, so compare that too.
3. Never sit in the front passenger seat. Ever. Always get in the back.
4. Bring a buddy. It worked in elementary school, and it still applies. “I think Uber should be trusted as a safe mode of transportation, but at the same time people should be careful and always ride with a friend,” Browne said.
5. Share your location with someone. Make it a habit every time you step into a car. Whether it’s your mom or you bestie, it’s good to have someone keeping an eye on your whereabouts until you reach your destination.
6. If you take a ride and something feels…off…don’t hesitate to give your driver a low rating. That’s how Uber checks in to see how its employees are treating the customers.
7. Don’t get blackout drunk. Aside from the health concerns, you can’t be coherent enough to asses your surroundings in an Uber.
8. Don’t accept any food or drinks from the driver. “Never take the bottled water because it could be roofied,” Browne said.
9. “If it feels weird, call someone,” Browne said. As soon as you feel the slightest bit nervous, take action and make the call. Even if you’re just overreacting, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
10. Finally, pay attention. Don’t get lost in Insta or take a nap while you’re waiting to arrive at your destination. “As with everything today, it’s just important to make sure you are always aware of your surroundings and always trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right to you,” Johnson said.
Don’t let these controversies scare you, though. When it comes to your options for getting around safely and timely—whether you’re drinking or not—Uber is still one of the best choices you can make. You’re not publicly exposed in the way that you are on a train or bus, and usually it’s quicker. You also don’t have to wander the streets searching for a cab. Most times, there aren’t any issues, either. But there’s always that possibility of danger.
Looking at the big picture, Uber is a corporate giant. No one can tell for sure whether a company like this could truly change in the office and the field. Either way, individuals will always be at risk for deviance, so you’ll never be completely safe alone in a car with a stranger at the wheel. So pay attention, and turn those steps into habits.