Open Uber. Type in an address. Car pulls to the curb. Pay less than what a taxi costs. As a passenger, everything seems well as ride-sharing becomes cheaper and more user-friendly. But the simple interface belies a culture of toxic masculinity endemic of the ride-hailing company its former CEO, Travis Kalanick, once called “Boob-er.”
As a man, I’m no stranger to the patriarchy. I have seen how men take up all the space in the room. I have seen how they ramble on and on, deluded with their own grandeur, while women struggle to get their own voice in. I have been that man, too. I am complicit.
And so is Uber. They thought they were revolutionizing the industry, that they were gods on earth. In terms of venture capital valuation, Uber comes out on top. But have their gophers considered the ROI of helping passengers with disabilities, the value in cooperative relationships with city governments instead of deceiving them? Have they considered what it means to help women succeed in the workplace, not just to ward off bad PR, but to do the right thing? And have they considered helping their drivers earn a living instead of psychologically manipulating them and, until recently, refusing to allow drivers to receive tips?
Now the Übermensch is paying the price for the wrong answers to these questions. In his childhood, Kalanick rose from being bullied to being the aggressor, breaking laws and ignoring harassment claims as he focused on growing the company. He ignored employees like the former engineer Susan Fowler who was told women “just needed to step up and be better engineers” when she raised concerns about sexism at an all-hands meeting. Under his watch, engineers built software to hide wrongdoing from regulators. Kalanick must have thought he was revolutionizing the world, but he was only fulfilling an ancient adage. Proverbs 16:18 warns, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
To rise again, the board must not just search for a clone of Kalanick, but instead a moral successor who is a woman. She must be willing to work in harmony with employees, drivers, and customers. She will have to hire a more diverse workforce and improve driver working conditions. She must inherently facilitate a work environment is supportive of women in the workplace. This CEO must address the complaints of the countless women who have been sexually harassed by their peers. This CEO must listen to drivers and better their pay and working conditions so driving can become a way to thrive, not merely survive. In other words, she must care.
Sure, men can care too. Men can have empathy, they can listen well. The virtues of humbleness and empathy are not segregated by sex, gender, or any other identity marker you’ll find in non-discrimination legal clauses. Both both men and women are capable of leading the company, but there is a reason I suggest “she.” Studies have shown that female executives are generally more empathetic and cooperative than men.
Women carry experiences, not just measured in promotions and job duties, but also in the school of life, that make them the right fit for the job. The right woman who has faced adversity, who knows what it’s like to be a minority, will bring a needed dose of humanity to Uber.
Uber’s employees are waiting for direction. They — especially the men — also need to feel a little uncomfortable, that they are being led by someone who doesn't always think like them — and fundamentally, doesn’t always look like them. I hope some members of the old boys’ club feel lonely, so they know the value of compassion and kindness. And I hope more women, especially female engineers, will join the company to follow in the footsteps of a fearless, yet relatable role model. If a woman becomes CEO, this will happen, whether I wish it or not. But whether Uber will turn around will lie in the message its employees see in their unease.
Wong is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @calebawong.