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Drive out bias: Learn from Uber's mistakes

Thursday, June 25, 2015  
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By Simma Lieberman

Last fall, while attending a dinner party with the likes of Arianna Huffington, Ed Norton and Kara Swisher, Uber executive Emil Michael suggested that Uber should pay $1 million dollars to hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists who wrote negative stories about the ride-share service.

"They'd look into your personal lives, your families', and give the media a taste of its own medicine," Michael said.

Related: 3 quick reminders for leading a diverse team 

Michael’s ire was focused specifically at Sarah Lacy, founder of tech newsite Pando Daily. Lacy wrote that she deleted the Uber app after what she described as Uber’s pattern of sexist comments, policies and advertising detrimental to the company’s women drivers and passengers.

In response to public outrage over Michael's comments, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick wrote in a series of tweets that Michael's remarks "showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals."

Really? Then why is he representing your organization? Did you not know until that moment what he thought? Or did you know, agree and assume that everyone else agreed? Or maybe, you didn’t think he’d say it in public?

Here’s my advice to every CEO, politician and public figure who has had to apologize and explain away the sexism, racism and homophobia of an employee or representative:

  • You’re responsible for anyone who represents you. It doesn’t matter whether they’re at work or at a party. How do you want to be seen in the world?
  • Let every single employee know that and hold them accountable.
  • If you say that you and your organization value respect, inclusion, diversity and talent, then you better mean it in words and deeds. If not, eventually, you’re going to be embarrassed, lose customers or be the defendants in a big lawsuit.
  • If you really believe the values in your mission, your website or your marketing material, then you’ll hire people who believe and live those values at work and everywhere else.

You create the cultural blueprint for your organization and when you have people in senior leadership who are offensive, and, disrespectful, they are reflections of the culture you’ve created.

These scandals are like the parent who apologizes for their kids bullying, when their kids learned that behavior from them.

I love technology and disruptive innovation. I want to see everyone benefit and be welcomed to the new age (like the Imagine Dragons song says). For that to happen, we need more diversity of every kind represented our organizations. Right now, it’s lacking.

The people who lead the most innovative firms, like Uber, are opening up new worlds at immeasurable speeds. They are creative, brilliant and "think outside the box." However, if they want to extend their reach and influence even more, they need to live, hire and discover the genius in people "who are out of the box."

Those who use their power to demean people who are different than them, and suggest that threatening the families and livelihood of people who criticize them is okay, should not continue to be rewarded — or be excused.

Simma Lieberman, internationally known as "The Inclusionist" is a diversity and inclusion and culture change consultant, speaker and coach.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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