Pando

The horrific trickle down of Asshole culture: Why I've just deleted Uber from my phone

By Sarah Lacy , written on October 22, 2014

From The News Desk

We shared this in our News Ticker already, but I still can't believe that an office of Uber -- a company valued at $18 billion and held up as a bastion of modern entrepreneurship -- posted an ad that encouraged, played on, and celebrated treating women who may choose to drive cars to make extra money like hookers.

As a woman in this industry struggling mightily with growing sexism in tech demonstrated by people like Uber founder Travis Kalanick, it felt like a punch to the stomach. I didn't actually think Uber could shock me anymore. I was wrong.

I've spent weeks since my 6,000-word rant on Silicon Valley assholes having private conversations with the VCs who fund them. Almost none has argued with the premise of my story. But what some have argued is that those who are able to start great companies are a breed apart: misfits who we can't expect to conform to normal behavior. Kalanick's investors in particular (many of whom, incidentally, Pando shares) have told me that his same bad-boy behavior and arrogance is the only reason he was able to run headlong into the buzzsaw of dozens of powerful taxi lobbies.

I've never had much of an issue with Kalanick's hard charging competitive nature or libertarian beliefs. But this sexism and misogyny is something different and scary. Women drive Ubers and ride in them. I don't know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn't respect us or prioritize our safety.

Maybe, as investors have argued, Kalanick himself has the balance of "acceptable" misogyny right. You know, he makes gross public comments about how his company should be called "Boober" because of all the tail he gets personally along with its success, but he wouldn't actually physically harm a woman himself. And maybe, the good of the company he builds -- and the many non-morally bankrupt people who I believe work there -- outweighs even his worst qualities.

Maybe.

Until today, I though that was a legitimate argument for why investors continue to support the company. You know, that and all the money it's printing hand over fist, leading to their outright terror of landing on his bad side.

But the rapidly pulled post out of Uber Lyon proves what every CEO has always known: It's less about what you say directly and explicitly to employees that creates or destroys a culture. It's what they take from what you say. And I am not surprised that someone inside the company took Kalanick's callous attitude towards female riders and comments like "Boober" to mean that shocking level of exploitation and disrespect was appropriate -- that it would even be celebrated by HQ.

And like always, Uber has quietly withdrawn the offending post, but they won't apologize. That only exacerbates the internal message that this type of behavior was only bad because it wound up on Buzzfeed.

Here's why this is particularly scary: Yes, Larry Ellison was said to be a womanizer, and that may or may not have created a hostile work environment for women at Oracle. If so, that would be a serious problem for employees, and one that needs to be stamped out by HR. But everyday users of Oracle's technology weren't going to find themselves alone in a dark car late at night with a randy relational database. Uber is a company that presents itself as a way for people to get home safely after a night of drinking. Uber passengers are often locked, alone, late at night in a metal box with Uber drivers. Because of the service Uber offers as a company, the CEO and its investors need to go out of their way to set the tone that objectification of women is simply not acceptable.

Here's what I told investors the last few weeks when we've had this debate: You can certainly invest based only on the place you expect to find maximum return. That's your job and your prerogative. But when it comes to the mounting misogyny in the tech world, you can't sit on stage at industry events and say you care deeply about the state of women in the startup world and silently support assholes like these. You simply can't have it both ways. And I'm going to be there to call it out, whether anyone listens or not. I'm particularly disappointed with Uber investors like Sherpa's Shervin Pishevar or Jason Calacanis who I know well, have supported Kalanick's antics, and have young daughters. They should care. They should be horrified.

So, I'm turning that advice on myself: I've finally deleted Uber from my phone. For one thing, I increasingly don't feel safe as a woman taking it, frequently late at night and alone. I've got a good solid alternative in Lyft, and life is too precious for me to put mine at risk.

And at some point, an asshole culture just goes too far.