What other technology companies can learn from Uber

US-based ride-sharing technology company Uber has hardly been out of the news recently. A series of high-profile incidents, after years of controversy, eventually led to the resignation of 41-year-old Uber founder Travis Kalanick following pressure from investors. Uber has previously been plagued by accusations of foul play, including hiding code from Apple and purposely avoiding regulators. The company is known for its Machiavellian approach to business, but a blog post published by former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, tipped the balance.

The uproar has been furious. Since then, the Uber leadership team has dwindled, with many of its top executives departing in the last year. It’s taken a huge hit to its share price of $20 billion, while numerous media stories have kept the tech industry riveted.

1. Pride comes before a fall Uber previously believed it was untouchable. Dominating world markets, Uber is the most valuable tech startup (previously worth more than double that of nearest rival, Airbnb) and industry leaders were unwilling to criticise the company.

The quiet voice of Susan Fowler tapped into what had been a growing feeling among female members of the tech industry.

2. A founder defines the company culture

Companies scratch their heads over how to change their culture, but the obvious answer is that leaders set the precedent.

Uber founder Travis Kalanick was encouraging a culture where it was okay to win at any cost. He systematically ignored the abuse of staff members. That culture became normal for everyone.

3. Tech is not a meritocracy

Minorities in the tech industry know very well that it is harder to succeed if you do not fit the description of a ‘typical’ applicant.

Cognitive bias leads even the most well-intentioned hiring managers to favour those like themselves. Positive discrimination can lead to hostility from the existing culture.

The few women who did make it onto Uber’s engineering team rapidly left due to the negative culture they experienced.

4. There is no excuse for bad behaviour

Although Uber has been able to get away with its abusive practices for a while now, the tide is beginning to turn.

Companies can use their PR teams to deflect criticism, but eventually the popular voice will become impossible to ignore. Bad behaviour will eventually be punished.

5. A leader is more than a technical genius

The tech industry has a culture of worshiping its young (male) founders, viewing youth as more valuable than age. This is fundamentally miscalculated. Natural talent and drive should be balanced out by wisdom and experience.

Even if someone is technically qualified to lead a multi-billion-dollar tech startup, that doesn’t mean that they’re mature enough do that position justice.

Final remarks

Uber is a sad tale. Many more stories have come out from women who were harassed or abused by other members of the tech community. The women speak out at great personal risk, but it’s part of an attempt to protect others and provoke wider cultural change.

Companies should learn how not to build a tech company from Uber’s example. Don’t put profits over everything else. Disruption should not be a byword for law-breaking.

This damages the industry’s reputation and has a negative effect on society.

Author: Catherine Heath
Catherine is a freelance tech and business blogger / content writer based in Manchester. She has experience working as a digital specialist, studying web development at a London coworking startup, and collaborating with a wide variety of tech industry clients to market their businesses. She's extremely passionate about supporting women in tech to flourish and succeed by addressing key diversity issues.

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