For the last four months, Uber has been living in a state of mild crisis. A mid-February blog post by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler leveled accusations of systemic problems at Uber, including an institutional defense of sexual harassment.
The post sparked a months-long investigation that has ended with the termination of a top executive, an “indefinite” leave of absence for founder/CEO/playboy Travis Kalanick, and the imposition of big boy rules on Uber.
The changes that have been reported seem to indicate a serious culture shift for Uber. Board member David Bonderman resigned yesterday night after making a sexist joke at an employee all-hands meeting — the kind of thing that probably would have got him promoted at Uber 1.0.
But according to Fowler, who started the whole thing, the investigation is really just about “optics”:
That’s not a new opinion from Fowler, who has maintained throughout Uber’s investigation that it’s about business, rather than ethics:
Fowler may well be in the right here. Uber endured countless scandals before without ever changing its “screw the establishment” behavior. The difference this time was the level of backlash it faced on social media, which ultimately turned into app deletions and a loss of business.
But ultimately, it’s always going to be difficult to work out the motive behind changes. Whether it’s a desire to keep customers or a genuine belief in diversity, the end result will hopefully be the same. With a major change in leadership and a grown-up set of rules for the company’s employees to follow, things should theoretically turn around, whether it’s a business-first decision or not.