Source | LinkedIn : By Vivek Wadhwa
The downfall of Travis Kalanick should show the world of would-be tech entrepreneurs that they need better role models; that they need to stop looking up to the spoilt brats who lead some of Silicon Valley’s most hyped companies and the investors who fund their misbehavior.
Travis Kalanick’s ouster from Uber is literally a watershed for the Valley, something that is capable of shaking up its entrepreneurs and venture capitalists alike. For too long, its elite have gotten away with sexism, ageism, and, to coin a word, unethicalism. The cult of the entrepreneur idolized arrogant male founders who plundered money and even sank companies; the more money they raised (and often lost), the higher the valuations their companies received and the more respect they gained. Corporate governance and social responsibility were treated as foreign concepts.
Uber was not the worst company in the tech industry; it was just the most visible and the one that got caught. Its investors have been rightfully humiliated for having their heads in the sand. This is because it has for so long been clear that Uber needs management that is more responsible — to its employees, its drivers, and its customers.
The trouble first surfaced in 2013, when complaints about male drivers’ assaulting female passengers met with denials of responsibility by the company. Then followed sexist “boober” comments by Kalanick; ads in France that pitched attractive female drivers; suggestions by an Uber executive that he would dig up dirt on a journalist; and then the rape of a woman passenger in New Delhi partly caused by a lax screening of drivers.
But through all of this, Uber investors supported the company and accepted the ethical lapses as if they hadn’t happened. All that seemed to matter was that valuations were rising; the business, expanding. Who cared that a top Uber executive had secured a copy of the medical report of the Delhi rape victim and shared it with other company executives, including Travis Kalanick, in an attempt to discredit her? The company was growing; investors were valuing it in the billions!
Things finally reached a boiling point with a series of allegations by a woman employee about rampant sexism and sexual assault at Uber headquarters. And fortuitously, a board member illustrated the root of the problem by making a sexist remark at a meeting about eliminating sexism. The board was finally compelled to do something it should have done years ago: force Kalanick out and clean up its own act.
To be fair, there are many technology companies that are, in this regard, exemplary, including Salesforce, Microsoft, and Facebook. They are going to extremes to correct problems that they had found to exist in their ranks. I know from discussions with executives such as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella that they have been working hard and sincerely. But too many Silicon Valley stars are like Uber.
With the help of Arianna Huffington and Eric Holder, the company is at last working on reforming itself. And maybe the downfall of Kalanick will provide not only valuable but lasting lessons for the hotshots of Silicon Valley, and of tech cultures worldwide. If Uber can do it, so can the rest of the Boys Club. They have to realize that press releases won’t suffice: that real change is necessary.
Who are “they”? To begin with, the people who fund the offenders, the venture capitalists. They have not been held accountable, and they need to be.
The Diana Project at Babson College documented that, as of 2014, 85 percent of all venture capital–funded businesses had no women on the executive team, and only 2.7 percent had a woman CEO. The proportion of women partners in venture-capital firms had also declined to 6 percent from 10 percent in 1999. And this is part of the problem for an obvious reason: women don’t tolerate boys-will-be-boys behavior, because they aren’t boys. Moreover, as any number of studies have documented, diversity in companies yields a broader range of perspectives on the business itself, and, often, better bottom-line results. And, as I have previously pointed out, high-tech women measurably better than men have been consistently discriminated against.