UPDATE: David Bonderman is resigning from Uber’s board effective Wednesday as a result of the ‘inappropriate’ comment he made to director Arianna Huffington. More below.*
Uber held an all-hands meeting on Tuesday, during which the board announced that CEO Travis Kalanick would take a leave of absence. Furthermore, management shared recommendations from the law firm Covington & Burling on how the embattled ride-hailing startup can fix its culture after complaints of sexual harassment.
Yahoo Finance exclusively obtained audio of the meeting, which had some uncomfortable moments.
“Let us all address the elephant in the room — where is Travis?” Uber board member Arianna Huffington said. “On Sunday during our board meeting in Los Angeles, Travis told the board that he would like to take some time off, that the confluence of recent events, the death of his mother, whom he buried on Friday, and all that the company has been going through in the last few months, meant for him that he wanted to take a step back from the day-to-day management of the company.”
Uber’s board voted unanimously to adopt all the recommendations in Covington & Burling’s report, which included reallocating some of Kalanick’s responsibilities, enhancing board oversight, improving the human resources and complaint process, and increasing Uber’s diversity efforts by regularly publishing diversity statistics and using blind resume reviews, for instance.
A ‘disrespectful’ comment
While speaking, Huffington pointed out that Uber was adding a woman to its board, Wan Ling Martello.
“There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” she said around six minutes into the recording.
“Actually what it shows is it’s much likely to be more talking,” Uber board member David Bonderman said.
“Oh. Come on, David,” Huffington responded.
NBC News correspondent Jo Ling Kent later reported that Bonderman apologized in an email, saying that the comment was “disrespectful” and “inappropriate.”
Later on during the meeting, Uber’s chief HR officer, Liane Hornsey, told everybody to “stand up and give each other a hug.”
From War to Peace
Huffington also announced a symbolic change, which earned tepid applause: changing a room in the office named the “War Room” to the “Peace Room.”
The company also said it would no longer encourage employees to work longer and always be “on.”
“Uber is a data-driven company, and the data shows unequivocally that when you work longer, you’re not working smarter,” Huffington explained. Later, she added, “When you’re always on, you’re depleted, you’re distracted.”
Uber’s reputation has taken a severe beating following a slew of scandals over the last three months, including allegations of sexual harassment and developing secret software to outsmart local authorities, not to mention the loss of at least nine executives, including Uber SVP of Business Emil Michael this week.
Kalanick’s leave of absence and Michael’s departure should not come as a surprise given both executives were the subject of much criticism for behavior many outsiders deemed cavalier and at times downright unprofessional. At an Uber company outing back in 2013, for instance, Kalanick advised his employees about their sexual behavior via email. The following year, Michael received flack for suggesting Uber should hire a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on reporters who were critical of the ride-hailing company.
In addition to the announced changes, Huffington added that the onus was also on employees to act more responsibly.
“We need to judge ourselves going forward, from today on what we’re doing right now, on the actions we are taking,” Huffington said. “That applies to us, and that applies to the outside world.”
*In a statement, Bonderman said: “…Today at Uber’s all-hands meeting, I directed a comment to my colleague and friend Arianna Huffington that was careless, inappropriate, and inexcusable. The comment came across in a way that was the opposite of what I intended but I understand the destructive effect it had, and I take full responsibility for that…” Huffington also released a statement: “I appreciate David doing the right thing for Uber at this time of critical cultural changes at the company.” Bonderman’s resignation was first reported by the New York Times.
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