After CEO Travis Kalanick resigned amid several controversies
Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick resigned as the company’s chief executive late Tuesday. The move comes as the closely-watched and highly valuable company is facing multiple controversies from sexual harassment allegations to legal disputes with rival firms and regulators.
Kalanick’s departure from the ride-hailing giant won’t solve its problems overnight. He will still maintain a seat on Uber’s board, along with a great deal of voting power. And the company’s struggles require long-term solutions.
But even before Kalanick left, Uber had begun taking steps to improve its culture. Last week, Uber adopted all the recommendations of an investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, saying it would reduce Kalanick’s role and improve the complaint process for workers. More than 20 other workers were recently fired after a separate investigation into Uber’s office environment. And another top executive was fired after obtaining the medical records of a woman who said she was raped by a driver in India.
Three crisis management experts told Fortune Kalanick’s departure was the correct move for the company — but Uber still has a long way to go. Here are the next steps Uber must take to maintain its dominance in the ride-hailing business, according to the experts.
Hire a Female CEO
Choosing a female CEO to replace Kalanick would send the right message for a company that was once “an unhinged pit of testosterone,” said Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants, an online reputation management company.
“It would show that the message was received, and this just wasn’t about relieving toxins,” Schiffer said. “This was also about building a future and creating a different culture than the one that nearly burnt Uber to ashes.”
Few top technology firms are led by women. The most publicly recognizable female tech CEO, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, recently stepped aside following her company’s merger with telecom giant Verizon.
“If I were them, I would be looking really hard for the most qualified woman,” said Beth Monaghan, CEO of InkHouse, of Uber’s next CEO. “It can’t just be any woman; having a woman is certainly a good perceptional change. But it has to be someone who truly believes in a fair and equal culture and has a real plan for how that’s going to be trickled down.”
Bring in More Diversity
Uber should make a conscious effort to bring more diversity into its other top-level positions as well, said Bob Geller, president of Fusion Public Relations. Doing so would require Uber to launch new diversity programs and to immediately start hiring workers from different backgrounds.
And Uber should make its commitment to diversity clear by continuing to publish its diversity statistics, he said. “They have to shout it from the rooftops any which way they can,” Geller said. “If they’re implementing programs to increase diversity, then let’s talk about it and see what those programs are.”
Make Clear That Sexism Is Unacceptable
It should be abundantly clear that sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace is unacceptable, Monaghan said. Before Kalanick’s departure, Uber’s board agreed to implement all of Holder’s recommendations — which include improving the worker complaint process through human resources and offering clear guidance on appropriate workplace relationships.
While the board was discussing these steps, however, a former member made a sexist joke. That shows that there’s still more work to be done. (The board member stepped down shortly after his remarks became public.)
“You need to create an infrastructure so [sexual harassment] will never happen again,” Monaghan said. “People are human. If it ever does happen again, you need to have a system of procedures for which quick action is taken. You need to have policies that catch it and then live them.”
Create Better Relationships with Drivers
Uber recently announced several steps to improve its relationship with drivers. Passengers will now be able to tip drivers directly in the app, while the window in which users can cancel rides penalty-free is dropping from five minutes to two.
Uber’s business model relies on drivers being willing to work for the platform. That makes the company vulnerable to competition from rival ride-hailing services like Lyft, as well as traditional taxi companies. Schiffer said the company must restore its relationship with drivers to further distance itself from other ride-hailing options. Developing a stronger relationship with drivers would give Uber “a big advantage,” Schiffer said.
Market Itself With Transparency
As Uber continues to make changes, it must be as transparent as possible about them, experts said. “This is part disinfectant and part scrubbing, and a great CEO will eliminate any toxicity and pummel it,” said Schiffer.