A half-dozen seasoned female tech executives have rejected overtures from Uber, which is seeking a replacement for ousted founder Travis Kalanick. The remaining prospects are three men, whose tasks would include overhauling a culture of rampant sexism at the ride-hailing giant.
According to the Washington Post, Uber’s board has approached at least five female candidates for the role: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki, General Motors’ Mary Barra, EasyJet’s Carolyn McCall, and HP’s Meg Whitman. But all of those discussions have now ended.
According to Post, three male candidates remain on the board’s shortlist, with GE’s Jeffrey Immelt the only confirmed name.
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The job will be a huge challenge for whoever takes it. Uber lost several high-profile executives in addition to Kalanick as it struggled with a laundry list of scandals. It is operating at a huge deficit, and its biggest hope for getting into the black is a self-driving car program that has been staggered by a sustained legal assault from Google.
But there are even more reasons for a woman to shy away from Uber’s top spot. There’s no telling just how deep misogyny runs at the company, potentially weakening her authority. And as the Post points out, women are often elevated to top jobs in times of crisis, only to be castigated when they fail to fix problems caused by their predecessors. Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer, whose failure to turn around the struggling portal has made her a target of harsh criticism, is a sterling example.
Trying to hire a female CEO could even be interpreted as a cynical bit of high-level tokenism from a company now nearly synonymous with the worst of Silicon Valley “tech bro” culture. A woman at the helm could deflect such criticisms of the company for a time, but she would eventually have to shoulder responsibility for its problems.
Hiring a man to succeed a founder who once referred to his company as “Boober” might not be what the board had hoped for. But the next CEO of Uber will have his—or her—hands full either way.