Uber serves a cautionary tale in bad PR tidal waves

Uber recently sustained a wave of negative attention including accusations of company-wide sexism as well as a heated argument caught on tape between the CEO and an Uber driver.

Richard Levick, Founder and CEO of LEVICK said that many of the ride-sharing company’s wounds are “self-inflicted” and a good example of how not to make the same mistakes.

For example, an Uber engineer filed multiple harassment claims while working at ride-sharing company. The claims were ignored by the company, spurring her to leave, and explaining the situation in a blog post.

“I think that she has, for Uber, encapsulated the challenge that Silicon Valley has had with women engineers, which, as a percentage, are somewhere between 10 and 15 percent, probably lower. Now they have taken on the mantle of a company that has not been sensitive to those challenges,” Levick told What’s Working in Washington.

When Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, got into a heated argument with one of his own drivers, Levick said “we have the two faces of Travis Kalanick. He is both this visionary CEO who has seen an entrepreneurial opportunity, who has always been a leader in trying to foment change rapidly. And he’s also someone who’s had tone-deaf HR.” Kalanick’s treatment of employees makes them feel replaceable, said Levick.

However, there’s been a turning point. “Since President’s Day, and he apologized for the HR incidents with Susan Fowler… he has taken personal responsibility,” he said, which shows him to be a leader.

Levick said that this “growing up process” is something many startups have had to tackle well before they became as large as Uber. “Once you start to become a mature company, something else is expected of you,” he said.

One of the main ways to foresee this sort of controversy is to pay attention to social media. “If you look at any number of issues: you look at Wells Fargo… fracking…Keystone … the Mylan Epi-Pen. All of those issues, there were canaries in the coal mine” in complaints on Facebook, Twitter, et cetera, Levick said.

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