Culture

Uber taps former AG Eric Holder to lead sexism probe

The ride-hailing company plans to begin publishing diversity numbers for its workforce in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.

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Former Attorney General Eric Holder will lead an internal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment at Uber.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Uber has hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder to lead an internal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment at the ride-hailing company.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced the appointment of Holder, who served as the nation's top law enforcement official in the Obama administration, in a memo to employees on Monday provided to CNET. The company also said it plans to begin publishing internal diversity numbers, a practice that has become more common among Silicon Valley companies.

The memo outlined a series of moves to address outrage that has erupted since a former Uber engineer described in a Sunday blog post how women in the company were sexually harassed by other employees and complaints were dismissed by HR.

"I believe in creating a workplace where a deep sense of justice underpins everything we do," Kalanick wrote in the memo. "Every Uber employee should be proud of the culture we have and what we will build together over time. What is driving me through all this is a determination that we take what's happened as an opportunity to heal wounds of the past and set a new standard for justice in the workplace. It is my number one priority that we come through this a better organization, where we live our values and fight for and support those who experience injustice."

Late Sunday, Uber promised to conduct an internal investigation into allegations made by Susan Fowler. A site reliability engineer at Uber from November 2015 to late last year, Fowler claims that one manager had inappropriately sexually propositioned many women, but Uber management repeatedly "refused" to punish him as he was a "high performer."

Fowler's blog post also claims there was a chaotic companywide culture of sexism and unprofessional business practices. This, Fowler said, had serious work-flow consequences, including the abandonment of projects and altered objectives.

Arianna Huffington, a member of Uber's board, joined Kalanick and Uber's head of human resources for a company meeting Tuesday to discuss the investigation. During the meeting, Kalanick reportedly apologized for Uber's lack of diversity and for not properly responding to employee complaints.

"Travis spoke very honestly about the mistakes he's made -- and about how he wants to take the events of the last 48 hours to build a better Uber," Huffington wrote in an Uber blog post. "It was great to see employees holding managers accountable. I also view it as my responsibility to hold the leadership team's feet to the fire on this issue."

Sexual harassment and a lack of gender diversity in Silicon Valley have become key concerns for many tech companies. Women make up around 30 percent of the workforce at major tech companies but fill only 15 percent of technical roles. In a 2016 survey of 200 women who had worked in Silicon Valley for over 10 years, 60 percent of respondents said they'd received unwanted sexual advances, 65 percent said those advances came from a superior and one of three said they were in fear for their personal safety.

The full memo sent by Kalanick is below:

Team,

It's been a tough 24 hours. I know the company is hurting, and understand everyone has been waiting for more information on where things stand and what actions we are going to take.

First, Eric Holder, former US Attorney General under President Obama, and Tammy Albarran -- both partners at the leading law firm Covington & Burling-- will conduct an independent review into the specific issues relating to the work place environment raised by Susan Fowler, as well as diversity and inclusion at Uber more broadly. Joining them will be Arianna Huffington, who sits on Uber's board, Liane Hornsey, our recently hired Chief Human Resources Officer, and Angela Padilla, our Associate General Counsel. I expect them to conduct this review in short order.

Second, Arianna is flying out to join me and Liane at our all hands meeting tomorrow to discuss what's happened and next steps. Arianna and Liane will also be doing smaller group and one-on-one listening sessions to get your feedback directly.

Third, there have been many questions about the gender diversity of Uber's technology teams. If you look across our engineering, product management, and scientist roles, 15.1% of employees are women and this has not changed substantively in the last year. As points of reference, Facebook is at 17%, Google at 18% and Twitter is at 10%. Liane and I will be working to publish a broader diversity report for the company in the coming months.

I believe in creating a workplace where a deep sense of justice underpins everything we do. Every Uber employee should be proud of the culture we have and what we will build together over time. What is driving me through all this is a determination that we take what's happened as an opportunity to heal wounds of the past and set a new standard for justice in the workplace. It is my number one priority that we come through this a better organization, where we live our values and fight for and support those who experience injustice.

Thanks,

Travis

First published Feb. 20, 4:50 p.m. PT.
Update, Feb. 21 at 3:45 p.m. PT: Adds comments from Arianna Huffington.

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