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Eric Holder Recommends Broad Set Of Changes To Uber's Company Culture


Uber's CEO, Travis Kalanick, told employees today he'll take an indefinite leave of absence from the ride hailing company. On Sunday, Uber's board adopted a set of recommendations aimed at changing a corporate culture that tolerated sexual harassment and worker retaliation. As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, this is just the beginning of a long effort to rebuild Uber's reputation.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: It's been a personally and professionally difficult year for Travis Kalanick. He's become a controversial lightning rod for the company he co-founded and built. He's taken heat for participating in a business advisory group for president Trump and for a video that surfaced of him berating an Uber driver. Kalanick's mother died last month in a boating accident that also injured his father. And today Uber released part of a report detailing a broad set of changes recommended by former Attorney General Eric Holder, who investigated more than 200 complaints of workplace harassment and retaliation.

ELIZABETH AMES: It really details a company that is pretty much out of control. You can't have a culture that is so offensive to people.

NOGUCHI: Elizabeth Ames is senior vice president at the Anita Borg Institute, which seeks to advance women in technology. She welcomes the changes, increasing oversight of managers and hiring initiatives aimed at attracting more women and minorities. But she says if Kalanick remains CEO, she is not sure how much will ultimately change.

AMES: They got to this situation with the CEO that they have, right? So what makes you think that that is necessarily going to change?

NOGUCHI: In his letter to employees, it's clear Kalanick intends to return. He describes his grief over his mother's death but also references a need for personal change. Quote, "if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve," he wrote. Holder's recommendations, which Uber's board unanimously agreed to adopt, include calls for an independent chairman of the board. It adds a system to encourage swift redress of employee grievances and requires the company to rewrite its corporate values, among many other things.

George Boue is an ethics expert for the Society for Human Resource Management. He says just like many successful startups, Uber's rapid growth likely outpaced its ability to put in necessary safeguards and policies. He endorses Holder's recommendation to bolster Uber's HR department.

GEORGE BOUE: Because human resources is always the part of the organization that has the moral compass and is best positioned to address situations quickly.

NOGUCHI: Last week, Uber told its staff it had terminated 20 employees including some senior managers as a result of its investigations. That includes Amelie Michael, Uber's No. 2 executive and Kalanick's right-hand man. Kim Ruyle is an HR consultant and expert in talent management. He says consequences like that speak volumes to an employee base gauging whether a company is serious about changing its culture.

KIM RUYLE: So somebody gets terminated, and that story begins to ripple the organization. It's sending the message, oh, that behavior is no longer tolerated here.

NOGUCHI: Ruyle says in any event, rebuilding trust and changing corporate culture can take a long time. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRHYME SONG, "COURTESY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.