SAN FRANCISCO—On the same day that the City by the Bay mourned the sudden passing of its tech-friendly mayor, Ed Lee, various tech leaders came together to discuss the current challenges that women and minorities face in Silicon Valley.
“I don’t need to see Travis back,” she said, referring to the former Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, who resigned in June but remains on the board.
“Put Boz in his place,” Baker added, referring to Bozoma Saint John, Uber’s chief brand officer, who took her post earlier this year.
“We don’t need them,” Patreon’s engineer continued, referring to other powerful men who have been booted out of their positions, including Hollywood Producer Harvey Weinstein.
“There are plenty of talented women out there; there are plenty of talented people of color; there are plenty of talented everybody else that can take the place of these bad actors,” she said. “We don’t need them in our industry. We don’t need them in our society. They can go off—the rich ones can go off and play somewhere else. They’re done. They’ve had their time. They’re done. They can go.”
Uber loomed large in the opening panel discussion. The conference began by noting that, since The Atlanticconvened a similar panel in Silicon Valley a year ago, there has been a national momentum toward real consequences for men who behaved badly in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Washington, DC, and among other communities and industries.
In particular, the panelists agreed that Kalanick’s removal was spurred in part by a former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, who stepped forward in early 2017 to say that she experienced routine sexual harassment during her one-year tenure at the company. Four months later, Kalanick was out as CEO.
Kalanick served as chief executive during a time when the company was accused of open sexism and misogyny in its advertising (2014) and later when a woman claimed that her medical records were improperly accessed by Uber executives after she was raped by a driver in India.
As recently as November, the new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, revealed that the company had been hit by a major data breach in 2016 and kept it from the public for over a year. Meanwhile, Uber continues to be dogged by an ongoing high-profile lawsuit, Waymo v. Uber, which could have a major impact on the future of autonomous driving.
When asked by the moderator, journalist Liza Mundy of The Atlantic, what it had been like to report during this past year, TechCrunch reporter Megan Rose Dickey distilled her experience down to a single word.
“The first word that came to mind was ‘exhausting,’ one thing after another—hashtag Uber,” Dickey said amidst some laughter.
“It’s not that women and people that have been harassed were silent before, but it's just that people weren’t listening,” she continued. “I’m more interested in what made people suddenly start caring. Part of me is like, ‘Maybe the most silver sliver of lining from Trump’s presidency is people like—they’re more aware of how messed up this country is.’ And now they’re finally seeing that they play a role in this and can have an impact in making change. So, yeah, it’s helpful that the media is calling these things out. Susan Fowler, she just wrote on Medium, ‘This is what’s happening.’"
Fowler’s post was actually posted first to her own blog, not on Medium.
Another panelist, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder of The Boardlist, a Silicon Valley consulting company that helps place female executives, also had thoughts. She said that Uber was "having challenges in other business issues," which meant that it perhaps had made itself an easy target.
“Susan’s key change was using her voice and, despite the [non-disclosure agreement], going to Medium and telling her story,” Cassidy said.
“I think it was the combination at Uber, of business issues surfacing as a result of the actions of the CEO, and the culture at Uber. And this shows up in, some ways, as a massive reflection of what else might be going on and is going on with respect to the way that company operates. I think that’s one of the key differences, but I suspect that if we had been looking back on a year… where a company is doing gloriously well, I wonder, I really do wonder.”
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