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Travis Kalanick Must Go

Change, say some Uber-watchers, must start at the top.

The argument in a nutshell: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is a man who has built a financial juggernaut while flouting the limits of a variety of basic leadership decencies, and as such, is not the man to turn the company around. It’s not just that misogyny is widespread in tech, it’s that Uber is worse than most. (To read more about the groping, homophobic slurs, drugs, and threats of violence in service of the Uber “meritocracy,” check out this wild ride from Mike Isaac in The New York Times.)

The current outcry is a response to former Uber engineer Susan Fowler’s horrific blog post about the sexism she experienced at the company. It’s remarkable there’s been a response at all.

Pando’s Sarah Lacy deserves credit for identifying this problem two years ago. Yesterday, she reiterated the case that a disregard for women has always been part of the Uber culture:

This was a CEO who described this company as “Boober” because it helped him bed more women. This was a company that alluded to female drivers as prostitutes in Lyon and waved that scandal away as simply creative marketing. This was a company that abused rider data privacy in the name of intimidating a female journalist, tracking one night stands or “rides of glory.” (Again, no one fired.) This was a company whose team answered concerns about women getting attacked or sexual assaulted in cars by saying those women were dressed provocatively or had had a lot to drink… This from a CEO who even Seth Meyers described as Axe body spray sprayed “into a suit until it became sentient.”

Mitch and Freada Kapor, long-time tech investors and tireless advocates for inclusion in tech, expressed a different form of frustration:

As early investors in Uber, starting in 2010, we have tried for years to work behind the scenes to exert a constructive influence on company culture. When Uber has come under public criticism, we have been available to make suggestions, and have been publicly supportive, in the hope that the leadership would take the necessary steps to make the changes needed to bring about real change.

Freada gave a talk on hidden bias to the company in early 2015, and we have both been contacted by senior leaders at Uber (though notably not by Travis, the CEO) for advice on a variety of issues, mostly pertaining to diversity and inclusion, up to and including this past weekend. We are disappointed to see that Uber has selected a team of insiders to investigate its destructive culture and make recommendations for change. To us, this decision is yet another example of Uber’s continued unwillingness to be open, transparent, and direct.

And then there’s venture capitalist and former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao. Currently hard at work building Project Include along with Freada Kapor Klein, Pao has a lot of skin in the tech-diversity game. For one, she’s bringing a data-driven approach to diversity, trying to help company founders and leaders build inclusive companies without all the kicking, screaming and system-gaming. And she’s not feeling Travis one little bit:

When Project Include compiled and honed recommendations on diversity and inclusion for tech CEOs almost a year ago, we talked a lot about Uber as an example. We asked ourselves, “Would these recommendations be effective in fixing a company as broken as Uber?” At the end, many of us decided Uber was unfixable; it needed a complete reboot, starting at the CEO level. Every indication showed the CEO just didn’t care. The last year of even more bad behavior without accountability gives us no hope.

Uber’s lack of diversity and failed diversity and inclusion commitments have created a vicious cycle. Susan [Fowler] wrote about being forced to stay in a group she wanted to leave, because her departure would have worsened the group’s gender ratio. Diversity is often used as a contorted rationale for bad behavior, and this is one of the most toxic, pathological forms I’ve seen: forcing someone to continue to work for a toxic harassing manager because that star manager has to be protected from showing a declining diversity statistic.

Clearly, there’s a lot at stake for Uber. But it’s worth noting that the people calling for leadership change are, so far, mostly women. Along with their critique is a renewed concern that abusive forms of male power will become the new business as usual in the sector, particularly if there’s money on the table. Does the offense of misogyny and bigotry have a shelf life in America? And is it getting shorter? That’s the bigger fear at work behind the scenes. Male allies have an important role to play in shaping both Uber’s future and future Ubers, even if Kalanick isn’t up to the task.

On Point

Tech companies speak out against transgender rulingAlphabet, Apple, Facebook, Lyft and Microsoft were among the tech companies who released statements and tweets following the administration’s announcement on Wednesday to withdraw legal guidance which directed schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.  “Let’s agree now to always love all our children, and that our schools will be safe places for all. #EqualityForAll” tweeted Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.Bloomberg

Three men are shot, one killed in possible hate crime in Kansas City
A man opened fire at a Kansas City area bar Wednesday night, killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injuring Alok Madasani and Ian Grillot. The shooter, a local man named Adam W. Purinton, reportedly shouted “get out of my country,” before firing. Kuchibohotla was a valued aviation programs engineer for Garmin International. His brother, speaking to media in Hyderabad, India said, “This certainly shows that Trump is surely the primary reason as of now. Most of my relatives are in the US from the past 20 years and they have never encountered this thing.” Click through for some notes on his extraordinary life, or follow #SrinivasKuchibhotla on Twitter for more commentary and tributes.

Asian last names lead to fewer job interviews
A new study from researchers at two Canadian universities have found job applicants with Asian names of Indian, Chinese or Pakistani origin, were 28% less likely to get called for an interview compared to applicants with Anglo-sounding names, even when all the qualifications were the same. “Some people still believe that minorities have an advantage,” said one of the study authors, a sociologist at the University of Toronto. “These studies are important to challenge that and show that not only is this kind of discrimination happening, but it’s quite systemic.”

Hyatt’s new ad campaign gets political; is designed to give you feels
With a soulful version of the Bacharach classic, “What the World Needs Now is Love,” Hyatt’s new ad is about inclusion, cultural openness and the magic of travel. “It’s a simple universal truth. The campaign is really built on the knowledge that a little bit of understanding goes along way,” a Hyatt representative told the travel site, Skift. It’s also designed to promote Hyatt’s new world loyalty program, launching at a time when the political climate and government-sponsored travel restrictions are dampening the enthusiasm of U.S.-bound tourists. Look for it during the Oscars.

U.C. Berkley finally gets a black students center
The Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center opened its doors yesterday amid a small and long overdue celebration; the liberal stalwart’s black student union had pushed for years for a permanent meeting space. The black student population of Berkley hovers around 3%, small enough to feel isolated. “I’m like a little pet, so they can say, ‘Oh, we have black students.’ But they don’t care about my soul,” says one student.
Los Angeles Times

The Woke Leader

Roxane Gay is all that and more
It takes a lifetime to become an overnight success, and novelist/essayist Roxane Gay is enjoying a well-deserved moment. “Gay attracts a specific kind of devotion few writers receive: not only the dispassionate admiration that comes from her mastery of craft and story, but also the intimate adoration that people also often feel for a crush or the band they listen to during a break up,” says writer Molly McArdle. Gay’s work hits all the big, human issues –  power, race, trauma, desire, survival – and still manages to feel intimate and personal. She’s also one of the few writers powerful enough to pull a book from Simon & Schuster in protest of their support for Milo Yiannopoulos, and have it make an impact.
Brooklyn Magazine

Understanding the gay civil rights movement
There’s a reason why all gay-themed protests begin or end at the Stonewall, the now famous landmark of gay civil rights. It’s worth remembering that the gay civil rights movement is relatively young. PBS documents the Stonewall Riots, named for a popular gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the subject of repeated police harassment. A raid in June 1969 triggered a violent protest that lasted six days and established a gay rights movement that is still sorely needed today. 

Exploring the myth of the ‘model minority’
The academic and economic success of many members of the Asian American community have led some to believe that they are a “model-minority,” thriving in the American, meritocratic system. Research shows that not only is this not uniformly true, the stereotype is masking some real barriers to success that many Asian American students and professionals face. One example: Asian Americans are routinely overlooked for managerial roles because they are seen by white people as passive or unaggressive.
The Atlantic


There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair and disrespect.
—Nikki Giovanni