Would I Want My Daughter To Work For Uber?

One of the things we used to joke about years ago was having daughters.  When I had my first daughter, my trader friends in the pit showered me with bar room humor.  “God’s way of getting even with you.”, was typical.  Of course, they were happy for me-and I was happy for me.  I didn’t care if we had a boy or a girl, as long as they were healthy.

But, it is different having daughters than sons.  I have two daughters and no sons.  We quit at 2 because we didn’t want to play zone defense and it screws up the Disney reservations.   Seeing the world through your daughter’s eyes helps give you perspective.

One of my daughters casually asked me to write about what was going on at Uber.  She said the issue was spreading like wildfire in the developer community.

Interestingly, the Chicago startup community is one of the most hospitable in the world.  More female founders here than anywhere else.  I think some of that can be traced back through Chicago history.  Bertha Palmer was a very influential woman.  She set the tone.  If you want to get anything done in Chicago when it comes to charity, don’t ask the men.  Ask the women.  They have the networks to get stuff done.  In Chicago, we are used to having women lead, and strong female personalities.

Both of my daughters pointed me to the article about the woman who used to work for Uber.  Susan Fowler was a tech employee at Uber.  She helped build the stuff that makes Uber go.  Here is a link to her blogpost.  I don’t know a soul that works at Uber.  I do know that Sarah Lacy from Pando has been highly critical of Uber.  Again, I don’t have any practical experience with anything Uber, except using the app. However, after reading Ms. Fowler’s blogpost, I would not want either of my daughters to work there.

I am a big fan of ride sharing apps that disrupt entrenched government mandated monopolies.

I would be the first to admit sexual harassment claims are bullshit sometimes. There have been plenty of them uncovered in the past year.  The case at the University of Virginia is a prime example.  As my wife says, “Just because you did something and regretted it in the morning doesn’t give you license to cry sexual harassment.”  I have friends with boys who are in college that fear what could happen to their sons.

I remember the lawsuit brought by Ellen Pao, and my first instinct was that it was bullshit.  In business, some people try to claim victimhood in order to get ahead.  If you walk around with a confirmation bias, odds are good you will find it.

At the same time, sexual harassment happens.  I have heard a lot of stories about it.  The woman that tried to raise money who had the person on the opposite side of the table say, “If you sleep with me, we will invest.”  The casual comment from a male superior employee when they are checking into a hotel, “Should we get one room or two?”

Of course, if the woman calls them on it they say, “Oh, I was just joking.”  Guys, it’s 2017.  We can’t joke about that shit anymore.  To professional (or any) women, it’s not funny.

When I was at a Chicago Economic Club lunch, COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg said, “What happens when you see an older man and a younger woman at a bar?  What goes through your mind?  I bet it’s not that she is being mentored.”  Women at investment banks have different tones in their performance reviews than men because of the threat of lawsuits.  So, yes, there are some double standards.  Some of it might be bias, but a lot of it is “cover your ass”.  (If Sheryl reads this, I was the tall bald guy that gave you the Rosie the Riveter Keychain after your talk)

Professional business life is tougher for women for a few reasons.  But, the primary one is that they are the only humans that can bear children.  The window on bearing children runs from somewhere in your teens to late 30’s.  That’s the same time you are building a solid footing for a long term career.  Men aren’t faced with the choice of “going to grad school or having babies” or “working late or getting home to the kids”.  Men never get asked the question, “How are you going to balance work and family?”  By the way, I never ask that question of women. I just assume they have it worked out and it’s not really my business.  Chicago Booth economist Marianne Bertrand has found that the disparity in women’s pay can almost be exclusively pointed to the fact women have kids and men don’t.

Since I have entered the workforce, women have made tremendous progress.  The CEO of GM is female.  It doesn’t bother me who is running any company, as long as they are capable.  Unlike a lot of others, I think the glass ceiling has been smashed.  Women are in very influential positions in corporations, and government.  I disagree with those that think people won’t follow or support a person simply because she is female.  Those days are long gone.

Certainly, there is a “bro culture” in the techie/engineer world of startups.  I was part of a “bro culture” on the trading floor.  It’s a lot harder for women in cultures like that.  On a trading floor, harder to find a true mentor.  But, at least if you were an independent trader, you could compete.  In a corporate hierarchy, it’s a far different ballgame.  I think that Ms. Fowler’s post does an excellent job articulating the differences.  She writes,

It turned out that keeping me on the team made my manager look good, and I overheard him boasting to the rest of the team that even though the rest of the teams were losing their women engineers left and right, he still had some on his team.

The thing that jumped out at me were the statistics she cited. Uber went from 25% women, to 6%.  When she left, it was 3%.

That bro culture is going to change.  50% of the freshman engineering class at the best engineering school in the country, The University of Illinois, is female.  A tidal wave is about to crash on the beach.  By the way, I think that it will be a good change.

As an investor, I treat everyone the same.  I don’t care about their gender, transgender, race, or sexual orientation.  It’s all about the idea and if they can execute.  As a person that thinks entrepreneurial businesses is one great way to solve a lot of real and perceived societal problems, we need to do all we can to build the community and be inclusive.

If I were on the Board of Directors at Uber, I wouldn’t be lawyering up and putting up stonewalls.  I’d be actively investigating and trying to get to the bottom of what was going on.  If anything was going on, heads would roll right up to the CEO’s.  There isn’t any room for that sort of shit anymore in business or life in general.  If you want to play that way, you can’t be on my team.

 

UPDATE

I really loved this article at ReCode by Kara Swisher.  It gets to the emotional heart of the issue a lot better than my post did.  As my wife said, Susan Fowler unemotionally ticked off the ways that Uber is way off base.  It’s not like she was claiming victim status.  She wasn’t.  She went to work there and all of a sudden found herself in an alternative universe and probably couldn’t believe it existed.  A surreal experience.  If I were an investor, I’d be nervous.  Uber has competition.

Then there is this.  Women that do shit like this torpedo people like Susan Fowler.

  • awaldstein

    On this we agree from start to finish.

    What’s amazing if even partly true that it took this long.

    • 100% agree. I think there is a lot of fear (RIGHTFULLY SO) on the part of women. If they spill the beans, will they be able to get another gig? So, they shut up about it and move on. Privately, warn their friends.

      If Uber has a culture that tolerates discrimination against women, they ought to be penalized. It should hurt in the pocketbook and other ways to discriminate.

  • Jeff, good to see you here talking and thinking about this. As always, we overlap opinion-wise, but don’t agree on all. And as per my new online normal, I’m glad to discuss IRL…and I’ll hope to see you and Lisa again soon.