Omid Nosrati

The lessons learned from Uber's missteps

In spite of all the technological advancements that Silicon Valley is responsible for, they are equally as famous, or infamous, for an antiquated work culture more akin to Mad Men instead of modern times. Those that claim to be cutting-edge are anything but, especially when they promote intolerable, if not outright hostile work environments.

Few companies inside and outside of the famed Northern California business region has witnessed such a storied rise, only to see their reputation sullied and success cut short. Uber was an up and coming ride-sharing giant that all too soon found itself with three billion in losses, ongoing lawsuits, and senior executives leaving in disgrace.

CEO Travis Kalanick recently left via Uber’s revolving door, leaving behind a toxic culture that he helped create from the top down. One needs to look no further than a 2013 email Kalanick wrote to his employees headed to a Miami gathering celebrating the company’s success. He started the missive with, “you better read this or I'll kick your --s.”

To make matters worse, the board of directors and shareholders refused to hold their leader accountable, increasing the dysfunction by looking the other way.

It took a simple blog from a fed up and fearless employee to bring the story out into the light. Feeling that she did not have a platform to express her concerns at work, former engineer Susan Fowler blew the lid off the “boy’s club” style of wrongdoing that permeated her former employer.

Uber’s tale is not unique among other stories set in Silicon Valley. Growth and expansion at a breakneck pace create excitement and enthusiasm for companies built on ideas and venture funding. Once operational, policies and codes of conduct take a back seat to the free-spirited nature of innovation with little regulatory oversight and even less internal discipline.

Change should come from the top, not actively or passively encouraged by investors, shareholders and board members. Those high-level, influential executives should set an example for the company. More importantly, they should take an ethical stand against a culture that puts profits and unprofessional behavior over their own employees fearful of retaliation and repercussions.

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