From the moment Uber hit Chicago, we thought the company culture was slightly obnoxious.
Call us Midwestern bumpkins, but the hyper-brash ways of this Silicon Valley start-up, flouting local laws and fudging facts, put us off.
There was that day two years ago, memorably, when Uber informed all its drivers that they now could legally pick up passengers at Chicago’s airports. This was not true, as Uber well knew. By city ordinance, only cabs could work the airports. But Uber decided not to care. We wrote an editorial that began as follows: “Cool it.”
What we did not fully understand is that Uber treats every city like a cow town, a place to be rolled over. And we did not fully appreciate that this arrogance is part of a larger problem with the culture of Uber and Silicon Valley, made obvious since then by a string of complaints about misogyny and sexual harassment.
In the most dramatic backlash yet against this “bad boy” ethos, Uber’s top investors last week forced the company’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, to resign. As successful as Uber has been, growing in valuation to $70 billion, the bad press and lawsuits finally have caught up to it. Kalanick’s resignation was an overdue change at the top, one that we hope sends a message to all the boy wonders of Silicon Valley — grow up.
Uber’s image took a major hit in February when a former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, detailed in a blog post what she said was a history of sexual harassment and sexism. Shortly after that, Kalanick was caught on video arguing with a driver over pay. Last month, an Uber director resigned after making a sexist remark at a company meeting. And last week, a woman who was raped by an Uber driver sued the company for inappropriately looking at her medical records. At least 20 Uber employees have been let go as a result of an internal investigation into sexual harassment.
Uber is by no means the exception, though, when it comes to the retrograde culture of Silicon Valley, where almost all the big players are men, and where Latinos and African Americans are few in number. Just last week, The Information, a website that covers the technology industry, reported that six women have come forward to charge a well-connected Silicon Valley venture capitalist with inappropriate advances while discussing business.
We often hear the argument that the culture of any new industry inevitably will be a little crude, like in the Wild West, as aggressive entrepreneurs charge ahead. We don’t buy it. Success and decency can and should go hand in hand.