|Uber Technologies logo|
|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 (https://www.susanjfowler.com)|
|Uber's (former) CEO, Travis Kalanick|
|#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 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 https://www.susanjfowler.com/blog/2017/2/19/reflecting-on-one-very-strange-year-at-uber
Isaac, M. (2017, February 22). Inside Uber’s Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture. Retrieved October 7, 2017, from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/technology/uber-workplace-culture.html
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: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/technology/uber-ceo-travis-kalanick.html
Mannes, J. (2017, February 25). Everything we know so far about Uber’s sexual harassment scandal. Retrieved October 7, 2017, from TechCrunch: https://techcrunch.com/gallery/everything-we-know-so-far-about-ubers-sexual-harassment-scandal/slide/1/
Mannes, J. (2017, February 19). Former Uber engineer says company ignored repeated reports of sexual harassment. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from TechCrunch: https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/19/former-uber-engineer-says-company-ignored-repeated-reports-of-harassment/
New York Times. (2017, July 22). Silence equals complicity in workplace sexism. New York Times. Retrieved October 31, 2017, from US Major Dailies: https://0-search.proquest.com.wildpac.wne.edu/docview/1921361701?accountid=29115
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: https://0-search.proquest.com.wildpac.wne.edu/docview/1909098549?accountid=29115
Newcomer, E. (2017, June 6). Uber Fires More Than 20 Employees in Harassment Probe. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-06/uber-said-to-fire-more-than-20-employees-in-harassment-probe
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: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm
Uber Technologies Inc. (n.d.). Driving jobs vs driving with Uber. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from Uber: https://www.uber.com/driver-jobs/