Lesson From Uber: The People Who Fund Inequality Need To Be Held Accountable

Written by Vivek Wadhwa

Global entrepreneurs still worship Silicon Valley’s idols and aspire to be like them.

The downfall of Travis Kalanick should teach them that they need better role models. They need to stop looking up to the spoiled brats that lead some of the Valley’s most hyped companies and the investors that fund their misbehavior.

Kalanick’s ouster from Uber is literally watershed for Silicon Valley, something that is shaking up its venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

For too long, its elite have gotten away with sexism, ageism, and lapses in ethics. Its cult of the entrepreneur idolized arrogant male founders who plundered money and sank companies. The more money they raised and 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 is not the worst company in the tech industry; it was just the most visible and the one that got caught. Its investors have been humiliated for having their heads in the sand. This is because it has long been clear that Uber needs management that is more responsible.

It started 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.

Through all of this, Uber investors supported the company and ignored the ethical lapses. All that seemed to matter was that valuations were rising and business expanding. When it was revealed that an Uber executive had secured a copy of the medical report of the Delhi rape victim and shared it with Travis Kalanick and they both wanted to discredit her, they should have been fired.

Yet things only reached a boiling point when allegations by a woman employee about rampant sexism and sexual assault at Uber headquarters went viral. And when 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.

 

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About Vivek Wadhwa
Silicon Valley-based Vivek Wadhwa researches exponentially advancing technologies that are going to change the world. He teaches entrepreneurship and public policy at Stanford, Duke, and Emory universities, and is vice president of innovation and research at Singularity University. He is an advisor to governments, mentors entrepreneurs, and writes columns for The Washington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and Prism Magazine (American Society of Engineering Education.) Wadhwa founded two software companies before joining academia in 2005. He was recognized as an Outstanding American by Choice by the U.S. government in 2012 for his commitment to "common civic values that unite us as Americans." He was named a Top 100 Global Thinker in 2012 by Foreign Policy Magazine. He is the author of "The Immigrant Exodus," "Innovating Women," and "The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future."

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