On Tuesday, Uber held a special press call, hosted by board member Arianna Huffington and staffed with three of its highest ranking female staff, including Chief HR officer Liane Hornsey, North American operations lead Rachel Holt and company comms lead Rachel Whetstone. The call was pretty clearly an attempt to counter-message some of the negative press Uber has faced, specifically around its culture and accusations of sexism.
Huffington kicked off the chat, acting as a kind of proxy for CEO Travis Kalanick and reiterating the founder’s commitment to accepting responsibility for the current state of Uber’s culture, and also responsibility for the transformation. Uber is currently pursuing as a result. She highlighted Uber’s search for a COO, somebody who can be a “true partner” to Kalanick, as part of this commitment. Kalanick’s absence on the call was explained using the COO search process at one point, as Whetstone later answered a press question as to his whereabouts by saying that he was engaged with the COO interview process, as was board member and investor Bill Gurley, who is leading the board subcommittee responsible for the executive search.
Huffington once again said that she’s going to be “holding Uber’s feet to the fire” with respect to their commitment to following through on their plan to truly effect change in the future. She said that there’s no longer any space for “brilliant jerks” at the company, and added that the ultimate goal is not just to “fix” what’s broken at Uber, but to actually make it “the most adorable workplace to work at.”
Huffington also said that she is not dependent on the ongoing investigation into sexual harassment claims and Uber’s culture lead by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in spite a claim from Kalanick made previously that Huffington would be entangled in the investigation. She did say that the board, and the entire company, including Kalanick, is committed to abiding and accepting by whatever findings Holder delivers, and that the results of his investigation will also be made public at the time of his final report.
Uber addressed the issue of whether it ever considered Kalanick leaving the CEO role as a response to its ongoing problems, which include an outburst by him to a driver caught on tape by way of a dashcam. Huffington dismissed discussion of any such hypotheticals by the board and admired Kalanick’s role in creating the ride-hailing industry as well as Uber as its primary success story. Asked whether women, too, would be engaged in the COO search, given its importance to the company’s transformation plan and considering that the excuse for the absence of both Gurley and Kalanick was their participation in COO interviews, Hornsey reacted that “absolutely” herself and other high-ranking female Uber employees would be participating in the interview process.