If this were a normal week, Uber’s recently announced partnership with the music streaming service Spotify would be the defining headlines news; it is, after all, a great idea that makes perfect business sense. Unfortunately for Uber, this has not been a normal week for the innovative ride-sharing company. Instead, Uber finds itself in the middle of a public relations nightmare stemming from the comments of Emil Michael, Uber’s senior vice-president of business. According to a BuzzFeed report, Michael outwardly boasted about the possibility of hiring private investigators to investigate the private lives of members of the media who criticized the company and conduct a smear campaign, even proudly declaring that “nobody would know.” His comments were specifically directed towards Sarah Lacy, a female reporter for PandoDaily, who has often been critical of the company’s culture. Let that sink in.
In a world where technology reaches into the deepest depths of our personal lives, Uber, with all of the data it holds on its customers, abandoned all sense of business ethics. It’s hard to even imagine these sexist comments coming from a company with a valuation of $18 billion and revenue of $213 million, but looking at the culture of the tech company, the public shouldn’t be too surprised. Uber has had a long history of misogyny, led by its top executives. For example, during a GQ profile of himself, Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, make a rude comment, calling his company “Boob-er” due to amount of tail he has received since running the company. Then, after Michael’s recent remarks, he sent out a barrage of tweets that initially appeared to be an apology for the company’s actions, but upon closer examination, seemed to be more of a rallying cry to Uber’s employees. Only at the very end of the fourteen tweet message did he finally address Sarah Lacy personally on Twitter. Aside from the fact that this probably should have been first in priority, it was a nice gesture – except for the fact that he misnumbered the tweet, even though it was the last one. Could Kalanick have done any less to show the public how much of an afterthought this was?
Furthermore, an advertisement from Uber in France portrayed all female Uber drivers as hookers. The promotion encouraged Uber users to be paired with a French escort service, even going as far as suggesting it to be the “most beautiful thing on Earth” as you ride around the city with models. The ad was quickly taken down after being reported through the media, but it epitomized Uber’s view of females as clearly as the light of day. Mostly importantly, the public needs to be reminded that women drive and ride these cars just as men do, therefore placing their own lives in the hands of a company whose actions have clearly showed its indifference. Following several reports of sexual assault, kidnapping, and even a hammer attack, the company defended itself and its business model from victims, rather than holding drivers liable.
In fact, Michael held Lacy personally responsible for the sexual assault of female Uber riders. Of course he did. The sad thing is that this soon will pass. A company with a strong sexist culture will continue to thrive on its app downloads while larger issues will be blown over by Uber’s current aura of invincibility. Investors will remain drawn to the huge potential of Uber and customers will remain loyal to the service. Because as been seen, misogyny and sexism isn’t Uber’s concern. Even doing the courageous thing and firing Emil Michael isn’t Uber’s concern. Uber won’t, because according to Kalanick, Michael “is one of the top deal guys in the Valley.” And so the only thing Uber cares about is its money, venture capital, and business profits; and those aren’t going away anytime soon.
References: BloombergView.com,. ‘Uber’s Dirty Tricks Won’t Hurt It’. N. p., 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Carr, Paul et al. ‘”We Call That Boob-Er:” The Four Most Awful Things Travis Kalanick Said In His GQ Profile’. PandoDaily. N. p., 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Lacy, Sarah et al. ‘The Horrific Trickle Down Of Asshole Culture: Why I’ve Just Deleted Uber From My Phone’. PandoDaily. N. p., 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Lichfield, Gideon. ‘Uber’S CEO Appeared To Tweet An Apology, But It Was Actually An Internal Memo’. Quartz. N. p., 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Smith, Ben. ‘Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists’. BuzzFeed. N. p., 2014. Web.19 Nov. 2014.
Sugerman, Michael. ‘Uber Sex Assault Case Reveals A Disturbing Norm In Rape Reporting’.TakePart. N. p., 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Weber, Harrison. ‘So Uber Isn’t Going To Fire That Exec Who Suggested An Attack On Journalists | Venturebeat | Business | By Harrison Weber’. Venturebeat.com. N. p., 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Image: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg