Rumors and reports of sexism have long plagued Uber. And finally, the company seemed ready to do something about it.
In an all-staff meeting in which the board of directors was presenting the findings of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and a toxic work environment, venture capitalist David Bonderman made a terrible gaffe.
Arianna Huffington, also on the Uber board made this comment:
"There's a lot of data that shows when there's one woman on the board it's much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board."
To which Bonderman responded:
"Actually, what it shows is that it's much more likely to be more talking."
No bueno. No bueno at all.
As you might imagine, Bonderman's comments were not received well at all. Later that evening Bonderman resigned his board position with this statement:
"I do not want my comments to create distraction as Uber works to build a culture of which we can be proud. I need to hold myself to the same standards that we're asking Uber to adopt. Therefore, I have decided to resign from Uber's board of directors, effective tomorrow morning."
While many may think what went down at the Uber meeting yesterday was a complete disaster, I view it as a positive.
Sometimes even the most unfortunate of events can provide you with important lessons that shine a light on how to do better within your own company. It can also serve as a compass if you want to prevent your company culture from ever getting in such dire straights.
Here's why David Bonderman's regrettable comments can actually be a good thing for Uber as they work to overhaul their culture moving forward:
1. They clearly demonstrated there was a problem.
You can't solve an issue if you walk around with your head in the sand. And even though the board was presenting a report that showcased that there were indeed problems of workplace discrimination and sexism, there may have been folks who silently felt that the complaints were unmerited.
Bonderman's public sexist comments demonstrated perfectly the heart of the issue. It was an undeniable display of the types of wrongs that went on at the company, and just how easily and casually they happened.
It was a visual representation of what so many complaints had worked to describe in writing. Because it happened in a way that was impossible to be swept under the rug, it forced everyone to see that there was a real problem that needed to be addressed.
2. They outlined what is acceptable and what is not.
Bondman called his own comments "careless, inappropriate, and inexucsable." He also acknowledged that they were destructive, especially in light of what the company was working to accomplish with their meeting.
When it comes to cultivating behaviors that you want to see your team embody, you've got to showcase wherever possible what good looks like, and what won't be tolerated.
In acknowledging that his comments were way out of line, he demonstrated that it was a new day at Uber, and these types of comments are not ok within the new culture.
3. They showed leadership's commitment to creating change.
You can't talk publicly to everyone in your company about how serious you are about changing a toxic and sexist culture for the better, and then allow a comment that was clearly out of line to go unchecked.
The resignation of David Bonderman demonstrated to Uber employees that they are serious about making a change. Had they not, it would have been clear that what the leadership team was saying was just lip service.
Leadership starts at the top. So if you want to create an environment that enables everyone to thrive, you've got to model that behavior in the way you operate on a day-to-day basis, and especially in less than optimal circumstances.
You can create a culture where everyone on the team feels like they belong. But you've got to be deliberate about defining and nurturing it, so it produces the kind of fruit that fuels a business that thrives.