Another day, another fire rages at Uber.
Since you've likely lost track of all the different scandals at Uber (at the time of this writing), allow me to refresh your memoryI recognize that this list is far from complete. :
- Feb 19: Susan J. Fowler's very strange year at Uber
- Feb 24: Another woman posts that she's an Uber survivor, and has some experiences even worse than those of Susan Fowler
- Feb 28: The Uber CEO is caught having an argument with a driver about fares; he later issues "a profound apology"
- Mar 3: Yet another woman reports sexism from female management at Uber
- Mar 3: NYTimes reports that Uber has been subverting law enforcement
At some point in the midst of all of this news, I'd finally had it. I couldn't handle all of the sexism and the twisted company culture. After getting viscerally upset at Uber for the Nth time, I decided to delete the app and install Lyft instead.
A coworker of mine (who happens to be a woman) asked me "How do you know Lyft isn't just as bad as Uber?." Of course, she's absolutely right; just because Uber is the focus of my ire one month doesn't mean that another company won't make headlines the next. Worse still are the companies who aren't large enough to get the level of bad press that Uber has generated, and in which a culture of misogyny is allow to persist.
The startup world has some serious issues when it comes to the fair treatment of women, minorities and anyone else who doesn't fit in with the rest of the guys. Uber is by no means the only evidence of thisIrrespective of my intentions, over 95% of the readers of this blog are men. . I haven't personally heard of any stories as bad as those from Uber, yet nearly all of the female startup-types I know from the tech industry haven't been particularly surprised by these recent allegations. They all have stories about mistreatment or "that one boss" who liked to keep the temperature in the office high to "encourage female employees to take off their sweaters."
I frequently ask myself "But who am I to try to fix these problems?" I haven't experienced anything like this first hand. I'm a white guy from a privileged upbringing. I'm fortunate enough to be working towards my Ph.D. in Computer Science at MITI study robotics in MIT's department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. . And even though I've always been an excellent student, I recognize that many of my successes are inseparably tied to my upbringing.
Yet if I don't step up, how can I ever expect things to improve.
MIT isn't nearly as bad as Uber. Though there's clearly a gender disparity, there exist many resources for female students and overt sexism is uncommonThis statement reflects conclusions from a recent focus-group study I helped to conduct on behalf of my graduate department. . In particular, I'm fortunate enough to have a manager who calls out microaggressions whenever he sees them and actively tries to maintain a community of equality in his lab and (to the extent that he can) around the university.
I try to use my influence in my small community to effect positive change. I'm taking a course in conflict management, so that I can better understand how people communicate with one another and how to appropriately respond to destructive behaviorTake a look at these books if you're interested: Difficult Conversations and Crucial Accountibility. . I'm a coach with the MIT Communication Lab, which aims to teach students the principles of technical communication and frequently reaches out to student organizations serving underrepresented groups. I recently participated in an initiative to collect graduate students' concerns and suggested ways in which the administration could be more supportive of the student body.
These are just some of the ways that I've leveraged my position as a student at MIT to better my community and I'm always looking for more. Let's start a discussion about how we can improve our communities that includes the voices of women and other groups that the tech world has historically discriminated against. Try reaching out to your colleagues. Speak up whenever you see someone being mistreated or if Human Resources lets a friend fall through the cracks. Be supportive of a coworker who may be afraid to challenge the culture on their own.
And maybe, consider deleting Uber.