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VP of Growth Departs Uber Amid Growing Accusations of a Reckless Corporate Culture

By NexChange
Capital Markets

Uber’s VP of product and growth is leaving the ride-sharing company, Recode reports, bringing some more unwanted focus on the company’s corporate culture, which has been accused by current and former employees of fostering an environment rampant with sexual harassment and abuse.

Ed Baker, who joined Uber from Facebook in 2013, sent an email to employees announcing his departure, which Recode obtained. “I have always wanted to apply my experience in technology and growth to the public sector,” wrote in his email. “And now seems like the right moment to get involved.”

However, Baker’s departure has once again focused attention on the internal turmoil that is engulfing the company, which was first exposed in a widely discussed blog post last month by Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer who described rampant sexual harassment and discrimination at the company – and a human resources department that allegedly turned a blind eye to the accusations. Following the uproar caused by Fowler’s essay, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick launched an internal investigation lead by board member Arianna Huffington and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

And now Baker’s departure comes against the backdrop of this internal review of the company’s culture, as Recode notes.

But, because it is Uber, the Baker departure is complex: His resignation also comes at a time when Uber employees have complained about questionable behavior on his part.

For example, one person anonymously tipped off board member Arianna Huffington — who is one of the people conducting a wider-ranging investigation into sexism and sexual harassment at the company — via an email that Baker had engaged in a sexual encounter with another employee.

Specifically, said sources, Baker was seen “making out” at an internal Uber event held in Miami three years ago, which was seen by some employees. There was no suggestion of any sexual harassment on his part and the encounter was apparently consensual.

Fowler’s essay – and the subsequent investigation – has lead to other inquiries into Uber’s workplace, which current and former employees have described “as a Hobbesian environment at the company, in which workers are sometimes pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers.” Another former employee alleges that unless you’re “a straight white male preferably with heavily bro-y attitudes,” you will likely not fit in at Uber.

Uber has built itself into a Silicon Valley behemoth, turning its ride-sharing startup into a company that operates in more than 70 countries, and is valued by private investors at roughly $70 billion. But two of its earliest investors – Mitch and Freada Kapor – wrote an open letter criticizing the internal investigation for being led “by a team of insiders to investigate its destructive culture and make recommendations for change.”

Eric Holder has been working on behalf of Uber since at least last June, when he and his firm were hired to advocate on behalf of Uber to lawmakers concerning using fingerprints as part of background checks on drivers. Arianna Huffington has held a board seat for about a year and is deeply invested in the company weathering the PR crisis. As the company’s Chief Human Resources officer, Liane Hornsey reports to Travis’ executive team. This group is not set up to come up with an accurate analysis of the culture and a tough set of recommendations.

And if all this were not enough, the New York Times reported on Friday that Uber is allegedly using a tool called Greyball, “which uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials who were trying to clamp down on the ride-hailing service.” Uber is using the tool “in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been banned,” according to the Times.

Photo: JD Lasica

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