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A year later, what Uber has done to revamp its troubled image

CNBC logo CNBC 6/20/2018 Barbara Booth

a man wearing a hat and sunglasses: Dara Khosrowshahi© Provided by CNBCDara Khosrowshahi In June 2017 Uber's board of directors unanimously approved a set of recommendations presented by former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to dramatically revamp the ridesharing giant's troubled management and culture.

Last February the company was hit with widespread allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination; a lawsuit by Google's Waymo self-driving car program accusing Uber of stealing trade secrets; a video showing Kalanick berating an Uber driver, an investigation by the Justice Dept. for using a program to evade law enforcement so it could operate in cities where it was banned. And so much more.

In March 2017 Uber retained Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, partners at the law firm Covington & Burling, to perform a thorough and objective review of the company's workplace environment. The investigation came after Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber Technologies, published a blog post on Feb. 19 detailing allegations of harassment, discrimination and retaliation during her employment and the ineffectiveness of the company's then-existing policies and procedures.

Shortly after, an examination of 215 staff complaints led to the firing of more than 20 Uber employees.

An Uber signage is displayed outside the company's headquarters building in San Francisco, California, on June 21, 2017.© Provided by CNBC An Uber signage is displayed outside the company's headquarters building in San Francisco, California, on June 21, 2017.

The 13-page "Holder Report" suggested widespread changes to Uber's senior leadership, including paring down founder and CEO Travis Kalanick's role. (A few days later, on June 13, Kalanick announced that he would be taking a leave of absence to grieve the loss of his mother, who had died as a result of injuries sustained in a boating accident, and to allow the embattled company to focus on improving its corporate culture.)

Among other things, the report also advocated for limiting alcohol during workdays and company events; prohibiting intimate relationships between employees and bosses'; establishing key metrics to which senior leaders would be held accountable; increasing the profile of Uber's head of diversity and inclusion; restructuring its board of directors to include independent board seats, along with an oversight committee to instill and enhance a culture of ethical business practices; broadening its training and human resources teams; providing an effective complaint process; establishing an employee diversity board and regularly publishing its diversity statistics.

Now, one year later, Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, is looking to take the company public in 2019. But he still has a ways to go with respect to rebuilding the brand, improving the overall product, instilling diversity and building out his management team. That includes hiring a chief financial officer, he said.

Uber's progress one year later

Responding to the report, Uber hired Bo Young Lee to be its first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer. Lee's executive appointment is the third under Khosrowshahi. Only three months in her new role, she is taking her position very seriously, overseeing diversity and inclusion strategies, such as diversity hiring, training and employee support groups.

"The attention accompanying my announcement forced me to give some serious thought to whether I wanted to introduce that level of scrutiny into the work I was doing. Ultimately, I realized that the potential for change at Uber was worth it," Lee said in a statement.

Although not significant, the company has seen an uptick this year in the overall representation of women. In 2018 the total percentage of women in Uber's global workforce is 38 percent, up 1.9 percent over last year. (The company has brought several women onto its leadership team: Susan Anderson is Uber's new general manager in Australia and New Zealand; Jodie Auster is Australia and New Zealand general manager of Uber Eats. They join three other women on Uber's eight-person executive team in Australia.)

Women in technical leadership roles — those at director level and above in areas including tech, engineering and product — grew 4.3 percent, up to 15.6 percent. The percentage of female tech workers, such as engineers and IT specialists, also grew, from 15.4 percent to about 18 percent this year.

Achieving gender parity isn't a task that's new to Khosrowshahi. As CEO of Expedia, he helped the company bring its U.S. workforce to 51 percent women and 49 percent men, according to company data from June 2016.

Bozoma Saint John, CMO of Endeavor.© Provided by CNBC Bozoma Saint John, CMO of Endeavor.

Although Uber's Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John announced last week that she is stepping down from the company after just a year to become the chief marketing officer for Endeavor, a holding company for powerhouse talent, marketing and literary agencies, she told CNBC at Cannes Lions on Tuesday that Uber is "on its way to being great. It's not there yet."

She added that Khosrowshahi "is sincere in what he wants to do, along with the leadership team. ... The culture is much better. It's on its path."


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