Uber’s gender discrimination problems are the focus of a federal investigation

Uber’s gender discrimination problems are the focus of a federal investigation

Photo by Philip Cheung for The Verge

Uber is being investigated by the US government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over concerns about gender inequity at the company, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The commission’s probe was reportedly opened last August, right around the time that Dara Khosrowshahi was chosen to replace Uber founder Travis Kalanick as CEO. Gender discrimination at the company became a widely discussed issue after Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, published an account of the sexism and sexual harassment she experienced during her time there in February 2017.

Investigators are interviewing current and former employees and looking through company documents in order to learn more about how gender is treated in Uber’s hiring practices and salary decisions, according to the report. Five criminal investigations into Uber’s business practices are also reportedly ongoing.

The investigation was made public just days after allegations about the behavior of Uber’s COO and the resignation of its HR head

“We are continually improving as a company and have proactively made a lot of changes in the last 18 months, including implementing a new salary and equity structure based on the market, overhauling our performance review process, publishing Diversity & Inclusion reports, and rolling out diversity and leadership trainings to thousands of employees globally,” a spokesperson for Uber said in a statement to The Verge. (The most recent diversity report, Uber’s second ever and the first since Khosrowshahi took over, showed marginal improvements when it was released in April.)

News of the investigation comes just days after The New York Times broke a story that Uber’s HR department, head of diversity, and other executives have received “several informal and formal complaints” about the behavior of Barney Harford, the company’s chief operating officer. Harford, who Khosrowshahi worked with at Expedia, reportedly made insensitive racial comments in a meeting about an ad that featured a mixed-race couple, and employees told the NYT that those comments were representative of how the COO spoke about women and minorities in other situations.

What’s more, just last week, Uber’s head of HR Liane Hornsey resigned after allegations of racial discrimination led to an internal investigation into her behavior. Led by law firm Gibson Dunn, that investigation reportedly discovered that some of the claims were substantiated.

Khosrowshahi addressed all three issues while being interviewed at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference Monday.

“All of those were very, very different circumstances. The EEOC issue, while I can’t talk much about it, has been going on for a long period of time, and happened to show up in the press at this point,” Khosrowshahi said about the gender discrimination investigation. The CEO said he held an all-hands meeting Monday morning, where he initially considered complaining about the leaks to the WSJ. Instead, he said, he realized that “what’s coming out in the news is a symptom, and it’s a symptom for us of a company that doesn’t yet, at all levels — at all levels — really, really trust that we’re going to do the right thing, not only externally, but also internally.”

“Sometimes it takes a punch in the face to see things clearly.”

With regards to Harford, Khosrowshahi admitted that “there were accusations, allegations made there,” adding that Uber “take[s] very seriously anything having to do with anyone, but especially with senior officers.” Asked whether Harford’s job was “safe,” Khosrowshahi said “it’s too soon” to say.

“Sometimes it takes a punch in the face to see things clearly,” Khosrowshahi later said. “This was one of the moments for me. This was a rough week. But it is incredibly motivating. I think we absolutely have the tools. And I’m the one person who has to stand behind what happened. I don’t like what happened, I’m not blaming it on the folks who were responsible for the leaks. I take sole responsibility.”

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