A group of female Uber employees told CEO Travis Kalanick Thursday night that the company has a “systemic problem” follow reports of workplace toxicity and sexual harassment. The hour-long meeting, audio of which was published by BuzzFeed News, comes four days after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published an essay describing conditions at the company.
Fowler reported being on the receiving end of sexual harassment from Uber employees, with her complaints ignored by the company’s HR department. Since the publication of Fowler’s blog post, more stories of Uber’s corrosive work culture have emerged. A report from The New York Times described a number of incidents, including one in which an employee threatened to beat an underperforming subordinate with a baseball bat, and another where a manager groped a female co-worker’s breasts at a company retreat.
One female employee told Kalanick on Thursday night: “Can we stop saying ‘If there’s a systemic problem here.’ For years in tech we’ve been saying ‘If there’s a systemic problem’ and ‘Where’s the data?’ [...] But we have the data, we have the anecdotes, we have it happening in our own back yard. When are we going to get together and say there is a systemic problem here and stop using hypotheticals?”
In the audio published by BuzzFeed News, Kalanick initially dodges the question and says employees should trust in the investigation into Uber’s work culture being led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder. The same unknown female employee replies that Uber doesn’t need Holder’s help to admit there is a problem. “If we had been listening to our own people we would already believe, wholeheartedly, that the systemic problem is here,” she says.
In another portion of the clip, Kalanick is emotional and tells the group: “I want to root out the injustice. I want to get at the people who are making this place a bad place. And you have my commitment to make that happen, and I know it doesn’t end there.”
Although Uber has been quick to react to allegations of systemic sexism in the company, employees say they have been suffering, unheard, with the issue for years. The company’s “independent review” into its own culture has also been criticized, as the team conducting the investigation include Holder (who has previously advocated for Uber), Arianna Huffington (who is an Uber board member), and several current Uber employees.
A statement from Eric Holder given to BuzzFeed News read: “I will put my personal reputation behind everything that I say. I think I’ve demonstrated throughout my career the ability to be independent, to not be afraid to express contrary views, and that’s what I’ve told everybody here at Uber.”