Uber: A Lesson In Company Culture


Nearly every company faces public criticism at one point or the other of their operations. The service industry particularly is often balancing on a thin wire trying to please a variety of customers. However, when a company is constantly in the headlines for one reason or the other, eyebrows are raised. It becomes necessary to look into whether there’s any merit in the allegations waged against them. Uber, the taxi-hailing service founded in 2009 and launched in Kenya in 2015 is one such company.

Lauded in the beginning for the tech company’s innovation in the sharing economy, the glory has been short-lived as they have found themselves at the receiving end of criticism both on mainstream media as well as social media.

The most common complaints have been over safety risks pointed out by customers. Accounts of physical as well as sexual assaults experienced particularly by women have been reported, evidencing that perhaps the background checks they are supposed to run on their drivers are not effective. To make matters worse, the company’s response and action to punish the perpetrators and prevent further incidents has not been forthcoming.

Their rates have also been significantly higher than those of competitors Taxify and Little. Users who enter their banking details in order to pay by card have complained that they are sometimes overcharged or even double charged with the reversal taking a long time after reporting. Their frequent price surges as well as fees for cancelling a ride are other areas that have been highlighted as problematic.

While misogyny in Silicon Valley is not news with numerous allegations of sexism and harassment against women in the industry, Uber has taken the practice a notch higher with rampant sexism being attested to by former employees. Even their search for a female CEO earlier this year to fix the company image hit a rock. This phenomenon, where a brand decides to hire a female executive not for inclusion or diversity, but as a way to soften the public’s collective opinion towards them is called the glass cliff and counts as workplace discrimination.

The company structure which allows independent drivers to access the market through an app while earning a percentage of the total ride charge is fairly new. Sympathizers have attributed Uber’s flaws to this aspect of inability to standardize user experience. However, other companies with a similar business model have managed to maintain customer relations. What then is the disease ailing this start-up?

In order for a business to establish itself and encourage client loyalty, its culture must be grounded in ethical practice. Company culture, which is the sum total of its board, employees, management, attitudes, values and beliefs determines how the processes leading up to the final product are carried out. Uber has failed to sustain a culture beyond reproach, and this is the source of all their problems as highlighted above. Seeing as most of it is tainted at this point with misogyny and pushing for profits at the expense of the drivers’ rights and consumer safety, the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick was the first step in doing better.

The new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi who took over in August must then figure out how to make a profit, as the company has been rumoured to be doing badly, while also prioritizing responsibility for their drivers and the data they access through their app. He must insist on transparency to reassure clientele that their voiced concerns are not only heard but actively worked on. Most importantly, he must address the employee relations to ensure that working conditions are not discriminatory or uncomfortable for either gender.

This culture of corporate responsibility which can only be built from the ground up will ensure the longevity of the brand and perhaps a renewal of their business license in London where operations had been barred. Read more on lessons start-ups can learn from Uber.

Related: What its like to be Female Uber driver in Kenya

Featured image via www.startuptalky.com.

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Imali Asena is a lover of words, currently writing an escape