David Gershwin Asks: “Can Uber Get Back in The Driver’s Seat?”

America, as some of you know, I’m not a big fan of Uber CEO, and Doucher-in-Chief, Travis Kalanick. Personally, I think he creates crisis through his Ayn Rand-worshiping views and then tries to look like the good guy as each crisis occurs. I’m not buying it.

  • Spirit of full disclosure — I am a pro-union traveler who would never use Uber, but I have used Lyft, in part, because I hear they treat drivers well and that drivers prefer their platform (which allows for tipping). It is my hope that all ride hosts will one day soon be able to collectively bargain and organize

Regardless of my views, Uber has established itself on our roadways, and is full time employment for many of its drivers. My good friend — and STAPLE of all that is good and righteous in Todd Flora’s America — David Gershwin, an accomplished communications and government relations expert, among other things, has written a thoughtful piece about Uber’s recent response to their latest crisis. It involves the damning blog post written by one of Uber’s female engineers, who extrapolates on her year at Uber, which was filled with sexism and abuse. David posted this today (2-22-2017) in “Gershwin’s Notes,” an official e-publication of David Gershwin Consulting. Here it is in it’s original glory: https://t.e2ma.net/webview/zhfvj/4345e4d912dc39d0f06cb78302e102d3 

Can Uber Get Back In The Driver’s Seat? 

By David Gershwin

That’s the question Uber’s fans, users, critics, and analysts are asking after the latest crisis to impact the world’s largest rideshare company. Because right now, Uber is on the hot seat due to a thoughtful, detailed blog post by former Uber software engineer Susan J. Fowler that’s taken the tech world by storm. In her post, first published on Sunday, February 19, Fowler detailed not only the rampant sexual harassment that’s seemingly part of Uber’s corporate culture, but also described an acute level of “organizational chaos” that stands in the way of Uber addressing its internal problems. In one of the more vivid examples she shared, during her time at Uber, women went from making up 25% of the company to a mere 6% by the time she left in December 2016. If voting with one’s feet is an indicator of larger issues – and it most certainly is – Uber was getting an overwhelming mandate for changes in the way it treated female employees.

Uber is still recovering, image-wise, from a vocal #DeleteUber campaign after it continued to provide rides to and from New York’s JFK Airport in the middle of a taxi driver strike to protest Trump’s refugee ban. The fact that on the day of the protests, Uber announced it was lifting its surge pricing in the area only fed the narrative that Uber puts global domination of transportation above all else.

But Uber’s response in the wake of Fowler’s blog post – which went viral over the holiday weekend – may wind up being a textbook case on how to manage a crisis of the brand. First, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepped up, issuing a company-wide memo and issuing public statements via Twitter that the many issues raised in Fowler’s post were “abhorrent and against everything we believe in.” Uber board member Arianna Huffington, who vocally expressed her desire to hold Uber accountable, was strongly supported by Kalanick as well – another good move on his part, if only for self-preservation.

Uber took the critical first step in managing a crisis: acknowledging the magnitude of the situation, in this case, the multiple scenarios detailed in Fowler’s blog post. And they did so rapidly, with Kalanick tweeting on the subject mere hours after the post first appeared.

Uber then outlined some immediate actions it would take in the wake of the issues raised in Fowler’s post. First, Kalanick articulated a message that “anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.” It’s exactly what the doctor ordered in Uber’s time of crisis: a strong, actionable statement that’s clear in its intent and in its motivation. Then, Kalanick announced Uber was hiring two accomplished attorneys, Tammy Albarran and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, to helm an independent review that includes Uber board members and senior staff. This, too, demonstrates the seriousness with which Uber is approaching this crisis, and it also recognizes that any real or perceived failure to do so would result in irreparable damage.

The last segment of Uber’s three-part crisis response – where do we go from here? – will be the most critical. Fowler outlined systemic problems at the company, and to address them, Uber needs to make systemic changes. I believe Uber will, with the advice of talented people, do exactly that. How will Uber change its internal culture? How will it instill values that don’t tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination at any level? And how will Uber make a better effort to recruit more female employees – and to have more corporate diversity overall?

Uber was dealt a severe blow to its reputation when Susan J. Fowler took her painful experiences to a very public forum. All companies and organizations face this prospect of an internal crisis revealed by an external source. While it may be tough to swallow, too often these same companies and organizations take the “ostrich approach,” burying one’s head in the sand, hoping problems just melt away. Well guess what? They won’t.

While one can’t anticipate every possible scenario that may emerge down the road, one can anticipate the types of crises one may face. What’s your action plan? How will you acknowledge and provide an initial response to a crisis – even if it’s not of your own making? How will you make longer-lasting changes to cope with a new environment created in the wake of a crisis?

Uber quickly took those difficult initial steps, and they appear to point in a positive direction for the company, its employees, and its reputation if it continues this active approach in the weeks ahead. Will an #UndeleteUber campaign be on the horizon? Maybe, but right now, such hopes need to take a back seat to Uber working diligently to address these issues in a substantive way.

About David Gershwin Consulting
Whether you use Uber, Lyft, taxis, public transportation, or even if you drive yourself, David Gershwin Consulting can help you, your business, or your organization develop tools and resources to manage a crisis. Contact us today, before the next crisis hits, so you can implement a thoughtful strategy and preserve your brand – and your reputation.

TF Note: David Gershwin is one of probably 5 people on this Earth I would call if I needed help in a public affairs crisis, or just needed wise political counsel. He is also a fantastic teacher


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