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This article was published on June 7, 2017

Uber attempts to fix its image with hires and fires

Uber attempts to fix its image with hires and fires
Abhimanyu Ghoshal
Story by

Abhimanyu Ghoshal

Managing Editor

Abhimanyu is TNW's Managing Editor, and is all about personal devices, Asia's tech ecosystem, as well as the intersection of technology and Abhimanyu is TNW's Managing Editor, and is all about personal devices, Asia's tech ecosystem, as well as the intersection of technology and culture. Hit him up on Twitter, or write in: [email protected].

Back in February, Uber’s boat was violently rocked when a former engineer published a blog post alleging sexism within the company’s management – from team leaders making sexual advances to a lack of oversight, to mishandled performance reviews and even denying female employees company swag.

Responding to the post, CEO Travis Kalanick appointed former US Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an independent review into these issues specific issues. Following a month-long delay of the investigation’s findings, Uber has now let more than 20 employees go – including some senior executives – reports Bloomberg.

That’s after looking into 215 HR claims. 57 of them are still being probed, while 31 employees have been ordered to attend counseling or training programs, and seven have received written warnings – so it’s possible that even more people will be fired in the coming days.

While the move to terminate problematic employees is a step in the right direction for Uber, the company will need to figure out ways to prevent such incidents in the future. What’s worrying is that, back in March, board member Ariana Huffington (who’s also on the investigation committee), denied that sexism might be a systematic problem at Uber, saying:

What is important is that the structures that were not in place are now being put in place to make sure that women, minorities, everyone, feels completely comfortable at Uber.

The allegations were believed to have pushed president Jeff Jones to quit after joining just six months prior; a week after his departure, a complaint from a female employee about being taken along by Kalanick and other senior executives to an escort-karaoke bar in South Korea, and feeling uncomfortable with their inappropriate behavior, back in 2014.

Aside from handling its internal turmoil, Uber also has an image problem to tackle. To that end, it’s hired former Apple music exec Bozoma Saint John is joining as the company’s chief brand officer, and Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei is its new senior vice president for leadership and strategy.

It’ll be interesting to see if they can help fix Uber’s reputation as an ethically challenged business. Speaking about her new role, Saint John, who made a splash at Apple’s 2016 WWDC event, told Business Insider:

(Uber’s) grown so quickly in such a short amount of time – and leadership and others have been so focused on growing the business – that this very moment is about changing the image of Uber and crafting what that brand story is. That hasn’t been done yet.

As for Frei, she might know a thing or two about making Uber “a world-class company that can be proud of itself in the end, rather than embarrassed;” in 2012, she wrote a book titled ‘Uncommon Service: How to Win By Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business.’

With the company still in need of a president, as well as a COO who Kalanick has been hunting for since February, Frei and Saint John will likely have their hands full at least for the first few months in their new positions. Between claims of sexism, tussles with government agencies around the world and issues with drivers who want to be treated as employees, Uber has its work cut out it for it in repairing its image.

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