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What Uber's Leadership Change Means For Diversity In Tech


The path that led to this week's resignation of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arguably began with Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer who wrote a scathing blog earlier this year. She said she had experienced sexual harassment and discrimination while working for Uber. It stood out among a string of public scandals and legal problems. And it all culminated in an email Kalanick sent to employees about stepping down. His first sentence was, quote, "I never thought I'd be writing this." But it comes as no surprise to Y-Vonne Hutchinson. She's the founder of ReadySet. It's a firm that trains Silicon Valley companies on diversity and inclusion. She joins us from our studios in New York.

Y-Vonne, thanks so much for being with us.

Y-VONNE HUTCHINSON: Well, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So let's talk about some of the problems that have wreaked havoc on that company. Kalanick nodded to this. I mean, he was aware. In fact, back in April, he addressed the corporate culture that had given rise to all this. Let's listen to some of what he said.


TRAVIS KALANICK: Uber version 2.0 is literally the most just place to work in the world. There is less injustice and a lot more justice, and it feels really good.

MARTIN: So is that just aspirational?

HUTCHINSON: Well, you know what I don't hear there? I don't hear a lot of specifics. You know, I think justice is a great buzz word, but how is it just? What are they doing differently?

MARTIN: Changing a corporate culture, changing a value set, that's mushy and complicated.

HUTCHINSON: It gets more difficult the further along that you are. And there are people out there who think that Uber is past the point of no return. I'm kind of on the fence about that. I think that if Uber is to save itself, I think one of the first steps is to bring in strong leadership that is committed to making drastic changes and is also committed to owning the toxicity of Uber version 1.0.

MARTIN: Other Silicon Valley firms have been accused of being, at the very least, inhospitable towards women and minorities, at worst, downright discriminatory. What's to account for that? What's going on?

HUTCHINSON: I think for a very long time, we operated under the myth that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy. So you know, I think it sort of starts just at the beginning. Who gets funded? Traditionally, it's white men from elite institutions. And those men tend to replicate what they envision as success in their organizations, right? So they will partner with other white men, and they'll hire white men. But for a long time, people really associated that model with success, right? So if it's not broken, if we're building billion-dollar companies, why fix it?

MARTIN: We should also point out, though, Uber is a big place. There are a lot of people who work there. And there are women who have been successful, who have had professional advancement and who would say that they are very happy in their careers and with the corporate culture.

HUTCHINSON: Yeah. And let's be clear. I think that women aren't sort of immune from toxicity. I think that we have to be very clear that just because there's women in a company and they do well, that doesn't necessarily mean that there's no toxicity there. That also doesn't mean there's no pockets free from toxicity. It's really hard to know from the outside with a company the size of Uber.

MARTIN: Does Uber have an opportunity here, do you think, to just start over in some way?

HUTCHINSON: I think it absolutely does. In the same way that it bucked up against the regulatory industries in the markets that it targeted, I think it's going to have to buck up against the culture of tech. Very rarely do we see CEOs held accountable for the toxic cultures they build. And I think this is a big moment. But at the same time, it can't end here.

MARTIN: Y-Vonne Hutchinson is the founder of ReadySet. Thanks so much for talking with us.

HUTCHINSON: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.