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Uber, Culture and Susan J. Fowler

A few weeks ago, Susan J. Fowler wrote about her very strange year at Uber. Basically, she experienced sexual harassment, HR covering up and a poisonous corporate culture. Apart from her personal experience, she characterises the culture like this:

In the background, there was a game-of-thrones political war raging within the ranks of upper management in the infrastructure engineering organization. It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor’s job. No attempts were made by these managers to hide what they were doing: they boasted about it in meetings, told their direct reports about it, and the like.

Last week, the story continued with this tweet from her:

And yesterday, it developed further, because it seems that Uber wants to sue her for damages over the initial article.

Uber has a history of incidents that fit the pattern and claims exposed by Susan Fowler:

  • Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists; Senior VP Emil Michael floated making critics’ personal life fair game.
  • Uber’s Privacy Woes Should Serve As a Cautionary Tale for All Companies; REVELATIONS FROM THE Washington Post and others are bringing to light growing concern that every Uber employee, and apparently interviewee, is allowed unlimited access to customer data. For instance, one article described how the company’s employees use a feature called “God View” that allows tracking of all Uber customers in real time; that information has then been displayed as entertainment at company parties.
  • Uber’s deleted “Rides of Glory” blog post; remember that time Uber posted a blog article on its users’ one night stands? You know, the one that proved in full effect that Uber has zero regard for its riders’ privacy and data? And remember when they deleted the post and pretended like it never happened? We certainly do!
  • How Uber Deceives the Authorities Worldwide; Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been banned. The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials who were trying to clamp down on the ride-hailing service.

and many more.

I recommend a reading of Chapter 13 of Pre-Suasion. In the comments to that Book Review, I wrote:

The book contains an interesting chapter 13 on ethical use of the information in the book, which in turn goes into a discussion of self-selecting audience in companies. Basically, Cialdini shows through studies and with data that companies with an unethical business culture are self-selecting unethical employees, which will eventually turn against the company and each other:

Notice that, according to our thinking, the flight of personnel from an ethically compromised company isn’t expected to include everyone. Rather, because the exodus is launched by the stress from conflicting moral values, it will be specific to employees with high ethical standards. Those comfortable with the use of trickery to achieve financial gains should be happy to stay.

And therein lies the source of our third specified tumor of organizational dishonesty.

Phrased in terms of a caution to any leader responsible for shaping the ethical climate of an organization, it is as follows: those who cheat for you will cheat against you. If you encourage the first form of deceit, you will get the second, which will cost you dearly in the bargain.

Phrased in terms of a caution to any employee considering a working environment: Assholes attract more assholes. Be careful to learn about the culture in your potential new work environment beforehand, and choose wisely.

Published inPolitikWork

7 Comments

    • kris kris

      Thanks, added above as an edit.

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