Pando

Uber's many scandals are affecting recruitment at every level

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on March 9, 2016

From The Travis Shrugged Desk

If you’re not paying close attention, you might think that Uber is unaffected by the many, many scandals in which it has found itself embroiled.

For all the assaults, privacy breaches, threats against journalists, abuses of drivers etc etc etc, the company’s valuation seems to keep rising, and its rider numbers keep growing.

A closer look tells a different story: The company’s troubles in China, moves by drivers to unionise and looming lawsuits and regulatory decisions all threaten to seriously stunt Uber’s growth.

And there’s also a much nearer term consequence of the company’s bad behavior -- one that has so far existed under the surface but is starting to become visible.

Recruitment.

For months Pando has heard from senior execs at other companies that they have turned down jobs at Uber due to its horrible reputation. No amount of money or other benefits, they say, is worth the cost of being shunned by colleagues and friends for moving over to the darkside. In the US but also from folks in China and Europe we’re hearing that the inability to hire execs into critical roles (and the inability to retain those people for very long afterwards) is having a measurable impact on the company’s growth.

Now we’re seeing proof that the problem also affects senior, non-executive recruiting too. Four days ago, engineer Tess Rinearson wrote a remarkable post on Medium about the many approaches she has received from Uber recruiters.

I get email from someone recruiting for Uber about once a month. I try to leverage my privilege as an engineer to speak out on what I believe in, so this is the latest iteration of the mostly-canned response I send back.

The response Rinearson sends is as brutal as it is simple…

Thanks for reaching out. I really do appreciate that you took the time to check out my writing, and I’m sure the technical problems you’re solving are genuinely interesting.

However, I am a woman, and Uber’s track record on women scares me. The latest, on women who have been assaulted via Uber, felt particularly jarring. But also: The gendered attacks on a prominent woman in tech, the sexualized ads in France

I just don’t think I’d be a culture fit.

She also quotes sexist remarks reportedly made by Uber employees regarding their female colleagues. You can read the whole post here.

Yesterday, a second female engineer spoke out. Tara Adiseshan wrote:

I received a recruitment email from Uber last week. I was inspired by Tess Rinearson’s response and decided to write one of my own. I feel fortunate to be in a place where I am able to respond to recruitment offers in this way and believe it’s important to be visible in my politics as someone who works in tech.

From Adiseshan’s response…

Over the past few years, it’s become clear to me that I do my best work when I work with organizations that are aligned with my values. Uber’s sponsorship of Urban Shield, an event that aimed to further militarize the police, Uber’s responses to reports of sexual assault on passengers, and Uber’s treatment of its drivers are just a few of the many concerns I have about Uber’s values as someone who cares deeply about racial and gender justice.

What’s stunning about those two posts, and the countless other highly skilled engineers and executives who we’ve heard have rejected Uber’s attempts to hire them, is that they’re aimed at the hottest, most valuable private company in Silicon Valley.

Traditionally the hottest company -- Google, Facebook, Apple all the way back to Shockley Labs -- have had their pick of the talent. Not only would skilled employees be lining up to work there, but successful candidates be the envy of their friends and colleagues. The Techtopus wage fixing cartel collapsed the moment Facebook -- then the hottest startup in the Valley -- refused to play ball. The company was that confident of their ability to retain talent on their merits.

Uber has never been hotter. And yet, not only is it struggling to hire people, but the targets of its recruitment efforts are showing off their rejection templates on Medium and inspiring others to do the same. 

And that’s before we get into the fact that their customer service workers are so angry at their treatment that they’re sending screencaps of rape and sexual assault reports to Buzzfeed, and the drivers Uber needs in order to stay in business are organizing to force the company to stop treating them like crap.

That is a huge problem for a company growing as fast as Uber. Simply put: If it can't recruit, it can't grow.

Travis Kalanick is famously an Ayn Rand superfan. A few years back I reported his response when asked if Rand could teach us anything about modern America…

Said Kalanick:

“One of the interesting stats I came across was that 50% of all California taxes are paid by 141,000 people (a state with 30mm inhabitants). This hit home as I had recently finished Atlas Shrugged. If 141,000 affluent people in CA went "on strike", CA would be done for…”

Be careful what you wish for, Travis.