Travis Kalanick's departure is an opportunity for Uber to fix its culture from the top
On Wednesday, Travis Kalanick resigned as Uber's Chief Executive Officer. He follows in the footsteps of 14 other executives that have left the company just this year. Uber's fate hangs in the balance, with a vacuous C-Suite and a slew of problems facing whomever fills the empty seats.
If you browse the leadership pages of any major tech company, it's mostly white people and men. It's mostly white men. While that's resemblant of the industry as a whole, executive tiers maintain their homogeneity largely due to the fact that there are a finite number of the highly coveted spots, and turnover is rare, especially for CEOs. According to 2016 diversity reports, Apple's leadership is 72% male and, within the U.S., 67% white; Facebook's is 73% male and 71% white; Twitter's is 70% male and 74% white; Google's is 76% male and 70% white. According to Uber's latest diversity report, leadership is 78% male and 76.7% white. And that was before the latest exodus.
Uber has a comprehensive report that details what the company needs to do to improve its internal work culture. But the departure of a large number of executives affords the company an opportunity to diversify some of its most powerful decision-making and culture-forming roles. To enact real change within a company, it has to come from the top. And leadership pages can signal to potential candidates from underrepresented groups how serious a company is in attracting diverse people.
"It can be frustrating to hear your company [say] 'we care about diversity,' and then a senior role opens up and it gets filled by a white man," Tracy Chou, a founding member of Project Include and the catalyst for releasing diversity numbers, said in October of last year. "They have so much scope of influence, if they continue to be occupied by the same sort of people and not women and minorities, it's hard to see how the culture will shift very dramatically."
It's also an opportunity for Uber to hire executives that have experience in leadership and corporate management roles — individuals equipped to appropriately handle serious company issues, such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, retaliation and human resources problems, to name a few.
"What often happens in these companies, someone has a particular talent or knack, they invent something, they create something, they are a founder, a visionary, and that doesn't automatically grant you leadership skills and corporate management skills," Paula Brantner, a senior advisor at Workplace Fairness, said. "Some of these companies that get hot, they grow very fast, there is a lot of focus on scale and scaling up and the venture capital and all of that side of things but they don't build a corporate infrastructure that is sufficient to handle it."