Sunday, November 5, 2017

Uber – Sexual Harassment Amidst Aggressive Workplace Culture (2017)


Uber Technologies logo
Uber is a ride fare company that allows people to call for a ride using its app on their phones. What makes them unique is they treat their drivers like independent contractors who can use their own car and set their own schedules (Uber Technologies Inc.). The company has come under recent fire after a former engineer, Susan Fowler, wrote a blog post describing the experiences she had of being sexually harassed and of how the company neglected to do anything about it (Mannes, Uber ignored reports of sexual harassment, 2017). The post also talked about how other women tried to bring similar cases to Uber’s human resources but they too were neglected (Mannes, Uber ignored reports of sexual harassment, 2017). This wasn’t something that happened over time, the harassment started right when she started the job. According to her claims in the TechCrunch article, “Fowler claims that on her first day out of training, she was solicited for sex by a superior on an internal company chat thread” (Mannes, Uber ignored reports of sexual harassment, 2017). The harassment, among other things, forced her into getting, “shut out of a company-sponsored Stanford computer science graduate program for high-achievers” (Mannes, Uber ignored reports of sexual harassment, 2017) after a bad performance review. These kinds of practices, Fowler said, were fostered by Uber’s aggressive corporate culture. In her blog post she wrote, “It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor's job. No attempts were made by these managers to hide what they were doing: they boasted about it in meetings, told their direct reports about it, and the like” (Fowler, 2017) Fowler was later fired for reporting her manager’s manager to HR, which she proclaimed was illegal but had said her manager, “replied that he had been a manager for a long time, he knew what was illegal, and threatening to fire me for reporting things to HR was not illegal” (Fowler, 2017).
Uber app logo
After Fowler’s post went viral, Uber’s own CEO, Travis Kalanick along with board member Arianna Huffington (yes, of Huffington Post), chief of HR Liane Hornsey, and former U.S attorney general Eric Holder; launched an internal investigation of the harassment complaints (Isaac, Uber’s Aggressive Culture, 2017). Uber hired Holder’s law firm Covington & Burling and Perkins Coie (another law firm) as part of the investigation. The latter reveled that, “there were 47 claims of sexual harassment at Uber out of a total of 215 cases of sexual harassment, bullying, retaliation and bias” (Silence equals complicity, 2017). The probe gave truth to Fowler’s claims of the aggressive corporate culture of Uber. An environment, “in which workers are sometimes pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers” (Isaac, Uber’s Aggressive Culture, 2017) to keep the company going. The idea of this kind of attitude was plastered into the company’s own core values. Which included items like, “making bold bets, being ‘obsessed’ with the customer, and ‘always be hustlin’.’ The ride-hailing service particularly emphasizes ‘meritocracy,’ the idea that the best and brightest will rise to the top based on their efforts, even if it means stepping on toes to get there” (Isaac, Uber’s Aggressive Culture, 2017). In Holder’s report, he described these values as being, “redundant or as having been used to justify poor behavior” (Uber report, 2017). To grow quickly, “Uber kept its structure decentralized, emphasizing autonomy among regional offices. General managers are encouraged to ‘be themselves,’ another of Uber’s core values, and are empowered to make decisions without intense supervision from the company’s San Francisco headquarters. The top priority: Achieve growth and revenue targets” (Isaac, Uber’s Aggressive Culture, 2017). These values have allowed Uber to grow rather quickly as a name in Silicon Valley. As it kept expanding, though, its own culture was starting to cause numerous problems. Employees often tried to undermine their superiors and colleagues to get ahead, managers at venues groping female employees (Isaac, Uber’s Aggressive Culture, 2017). All the while, “human resources often made excuses for top performers because of their ability to improve the health of the business. Occasionally, problematic managers who were the subject of numerous complaints were shuffled around different regions; firings were less common” (Isaac, Uber’s Aggressive Culture, 2017).
Eric Holder, Arianna Huffington, and Liane Hornsey
Uber has since responded to these allegations by firing about 20 of their employees, some of whom were senior executives (Newcomer, 2017). The aggressive tone of Uber’s corporate culture was set by Travis Kalanick, “Under him, Uber has taken a pugnacious approach to business, flouting local laws and criticizing competitors in a race to expand as quickly as possible” (Isaac, Uber’s Aggressive Culture, 2017). Flaunting his ego in one article in which, “he referred to Uber as ‘Boob-er’ because of how the company helped him attract women” (Isaac, Uber’s Aggressive Culture, 2017). On June 21 after pressure from Uber’s major investors, Travis Kalanick resigned from Uber. (Isaac, Uber Founder Resigns, 2017).


Susan J. Fowler's picture from her blog (

The first main stakeholder in this controversy would be Susan Fowler. Her story was the “spark” of the investigations into Uber’s culture. The second main stakeholder in this was Travis Kalanick. The CEO who built Uber up on the company’s values that lead to this dilemma and had to resign because of it. He had “been under fire for his flouting of rules and norms” (New York Times, 2017) for some time and this was the last straw. Arianna Huffington could have been affected not only by the loss of value in her share of the company, but also by Uber’s corporate culture and how they treated women. Uber’s management, especially its HR department, had a stake in embracing the core values and causing the main bulk of the issues. Uber’s employees influenced and were affected by the hostile work environment, with Fowler and the other female engineers being negatively affected by it. The independently contracted drivers would question their loyalty to the company. Potential employees/drives might be driven away from wanting to work for Uber, causing the range of potential talent coming into Uber to drop substantially. Lastly, customers of Uber seeing these allegations come out have tried to get others to boycott the use of their app (Mannes, Everything we know so far about Uber’s sexual harassment scandal, 2017, p. 5) which could very well have an impact on the company’s profits.


Uber's (former) CEO, Travis Kalanick
The ideas behind Uber’s core values are purely based on individualism. The ideas fit Milton Friedman’s ideas of what individualism is, “Business actions should maximize profits for the owners of a business” (Salazar, Case Manual, p. 17). However, the second part of the rule is to “do so within the law” (Salazar, Case Manual, p. 17), and sexual harassment is against the law. Under federal law, “Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive” (Harassment) With Susan’s case, her manager firing her is actually illegal, “Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws” (Harassment) So the individualist would have to side with Susan on this one and say that Uber is unethical because they weren’t staying within the law, and more often than not trying to find ways around the law.


#DeleteUber boycotts happen a lot.
Uber’s core values are a big reason why Uber could be considered a hostile work environment. Since utilitarianism focuses on maximizing happiness, “for all conscious beings that are affected by the business action” (Salazar, Case Manual, p. 17) they would look at the company’s values as something that effects every employee at the company and any potential talent that Uber would want to bring in. But does it affect the customers? It’s hard to say because Uber’s customers only point of contact with Uber is through their drivers, whom are independently contracted. This goes back to the idea of Utilitarianism being for the “greater good”, thus utilitarians could argue that if slavery doesn’t detract from the overall good then its ethical (DesJardins, 2014, p. 34). In this scenario, the overall good is the customer satisfaction that they get from using Uber. If the drivers were considered employees and thus tied to those core values, then it would directly affect the consumers, then the utilitarians would have enough proof to determine this event to be unethical. Since this isn’t the case, the utilitarians would have to consider the company’s other scandals until they find something that makes the drivers, and thus the customers, much higher stakeholders. Judging by how many scandals Uber had in the past, it wouldn’t be too hard to find one.


The base definition of Kantianism is to “Always act in ways that respect and honor individuals and their choices. Don’t lie, cheat, manipulate or harm others to get your way. Rather, use informed and rational consent from all parties” (Salazar, Case Manual, p. 17) Some of Uber’s values fail to address that, thus causing the hostile work environment where people lied, possibly cheated, manipulated and harmed others. Secondly, harassment is “unwelcomed conduct” (Harassment), so there is absolutely no consent from the other party, nor does it respect and honor any individual who was a victim of it. From a Kantian standpoint, Uber would be considered unethical.

Kantianism involves looking at this from a more analytical standpoint then just its definition. Take one of Uber’s values for example, “the idea that the best and brightest will rise to the top based on their efforts, even if it means stepping on toes to get there” (Isaac, Uber’s Aggressive Culture, 2017). This would be considered Uber’s maxim for action (Salazar, Kantian Business Ethics, p. 5). The first step has already been done by Uber, they have clearly identified the action, which is to become the best and brightest. (Salazar, Kantian Business Ethics, p. 5). However, the second step involves evaluating if the maxim passes the Categorical Imperative, which are the tests to see if the maxim is rational or not (Salazar, Kantian Business Ethics, p. 6). 

The first of which is the Formula of Universal Law, which means that everybody must be able to act to that maxim (Salazar, Kantian Business Ethics, p. 7). The first part of Uber’s maxim seems too competitive and broad to be universal, and the second part makes it sound like only the people who can step the hardest on other’s without being stepped too hard on, will become the best and the brightest. So, it fails the Universal Law test because it can only be followed by a handful of people.

The second test is the Formula of Humanity, which is to treat others as ends rather than means (Salazar, Kantian Business Ethics, p. 9). Which to break even further down is to, “allow people to use their rationality and we should use our own rationality, and we should never circumvent the use of rationality in order to get something that we desire, even something that we think of as rational and good” (Salazar, Kantian Business Ethics, p. 9). Uber’s maxim only allows this when a person becomes the best and the brightest when their efforts treat everybody fairly. The idea of stepping on people’s toes to rise is just using others as a means. Which would fail this test because it’s not considered to be using rational thinking.

Since it doesn’t even pass the tests, it can’t be Uber’s maxim for action. Therefore, the Kantian would side with Susan.

Virtue Theory

Virtue theory states that people should, “Act so as to embody a variety of virtuous or good character traits and so as to avoid vicious or bad character traits” (Salazar, Case Manual, p. 17). Virtues are classified as, “Any character trait that aids flourishing” (Salazar, Case Manual, p. 23); whereas the opposite of virtues, vices, are “any character trait that inhibits flourishing” (Salazar, Case Manual, p. 23). Uber’s character reflected Kalanick’s character, thus the managers and the employees abide by those characteristics. What is known about Uber’s core values and of Kalanick’s character is that they exhibit the vices of competitiveness and self-interest. Although according to Susan’s blog, she did experience a sense of autonomy, a virtue, when she was working with her second team at Uber (Fowler, 2017). Plus, Uber’s drivers are not bound to the corporate culture and values, only to their ratings and income. Thus, they are much more likely to exhibit virtues than the corporate employees would. The idea that the drives exhibit far more virtues than the corporate employees creates this psychological dissonance that could cause some of the drivers to quit. If Uber doesn’t change its views to be more in line with their drivers, they aren’t going to last longer than they have been.


DesJardins, J. (2014). An Introduction to Business Ethics (5th ed.). New York, New York, United States of America: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Fowler, S. J. (2017, February 19). Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from

Isaac, M. (2017, February 22). Inside Uber’s Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture. Retrieved October 7, 2017, from The New York Times:

Isaac, M. (2017, June 21). Uber Founder Travis Kalanick Resigns as C.E.O. (The New York Times) Retrieved October 10, 2017, from The New York Times:

Mannes, J. (2017, February 25). Everything we know so far about Uber’s sexual harassment scandal. Retrieved October 7, 2017, from TechCrunch:

Mannes, J. (2017, February 19). Former Uber engineer says company ignored repeated reports of sexual harassment. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from TechCrunch:

New York Times. (2017, July 22). Silence equals complicity in workplace sexism. New York Times. Retrieved October 31, 2017, from US Major Dailies:

New York Times. (2017, June 14). Uber report: Eric holder's recommendations for change. New York Times. Retrieved October 31, 2017, from US Major Dailies:

Newcomer, E. (2017, June 6). Uber Fires More Than 20 Employees in Harassment Probe. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from Bloomberg:

Salazar, H. (n.d.). Kantian Business Ethics. Retrieved October 10, 2017

Salazar, H. (n.d.). The Business Ethics Case Manual. Retrieved October 10, 2017

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). Harassment. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from EEOC:

Uber Technologies Inc. (n.d.). Driving jobs vs driving with Uber. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from Uber:


  1. Michael, I thought that your blog post was very well written and well done. The pictures you used were very relevant and you had an abundant amount of quotes and good sources. This whole situation is alarming and also disgusting that Uber tried to sweep this under the rug. I'm surprised that a company as big and well known as Uber even tried to get away with something like this. I don't recommend any changes to this post and think that it should be revised as you see fit for the final paper.

  2. Michael, I enjoyed reading your blog as it was very informative on what was going on within the company of UBER. I found this situation to be alarming due to the fact that there were many complaints of sexual harassment and nothing was done right away. Your pictures were very helpful as they showed the faces of the people who are involved in this situation and who are in charge of UBER. I think you are on the right track to your final paper.

  3. I use UBER frequently when I go out with my friends on the weekends. This is extremely alarming knowing that these cases happen and nothing is being done to fix it. All your points were solid and very informative. You went into great detail about each section and made it an easy read. Your paper is going to be amazing. Best of luck!

  4. Michael - great job on your blog! I find it really informative due to the fact that I use Uber pretty frequently. All points you made very clear and in-depth, again great work.