Uber: An uncomfortable ride that highlights the gender inequality prevalent in start-ups today

It is appalling to see that even in Silicon Valley where some of the brightest minds work, issues like gender inequality still exist.

Yesterday, when Recodea technology website, revealed the mishandling of the 2014 rape case in India, where a woman, 26, was raped by an Uber driver, the case added to Uber's pre-existing worries. This was followed by immediate termination of its business head for Asia Pacific, Eric Alexander, who had obtained a copy of the medical reports of the rape survivor. Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling, the two law firms, whose investigation led to Alexander's removal, came into the picture after of the 215 cases that were reported against the company.

For Uber, the long list of accusations began in early 2017, 19 February, to be precise, when Susan J Fowler's blogpost, 'Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber', became viral.

Fowler narrated her struggle in the 'chaotic' workplace, which by that time, was operating in 50 countries, according to Reuters. She narrated that her position as a female engineer was often mocked. She wrote how during one of the meeting with the HR (human resources) she was belittled for being a woman, who as a sex, were better off for other jobs.

This did not stop with just her, rather, it extended to a host of other female engineers who were victimised. The actual assailant(s) who was a 'high performer', a valuable resource to the company, could be saved. Along with her, other female employees had to face the ire of the HR department. In the complete narrative, there were situations where the women were not only belittled but had to face situation of gaslighting from the concerned authorities. One such example was, as she quoted, "The HR rep began the meeting by asking me if I had noticed that *I* was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem."

Fowler's narrative is one which came to light, once she left the organisation. It is appalling to see that even in Silicon Valley where some of the brightest minds work, issues like gender inequality still exist. At one point Fowler also said that by the end of the year, only six female engineers were left in the team, as against 120 men. Moreover, the ruthlessness of managerial authority in its desire to safeguard the interest of the organisations at the cost of its employees talks about how Uber has objectified its own employees.

It is one of the narratives which was brought under the scanner when Uber's policies were reviewed. According to reports, earlier this week, twenty employees were fired on grounds discrimination, sexual harassment and mismanagement.

Recode's findings added fuel to the fire, where it was found that the business head (Alexander) was in possession of the copy of the medical report of the rape survivor not only for a year, but that he had shared the same with Travis Kalanick, Uber's CEO, and the senior vice president. The three of them did not even believe that the rape could have happened. In fact, they came to this conclusion that Ola, their rival company in India, could have tried to plant the situation. Moreover, they even shared the thought with their colleagues, who were left astounded.

While Uber stretched the rope too far in order to save its reputation, sexism and insensitivity have been a part of Uber's work culture. According to another report by Recode, there have been some concerns regarding the manner in which the employees were addressed by Kalanick in his email, which may have been passed of as cool in Uber. Giving leeway to existing sexism.

Findings regarding Uber are not new, rather some lessons can be learned from growing start-up culture in India. TVF, a company which went so far as to host a web series dedicated to modern women concerning their equality, reeked of sexism when allegations against Arunabh Kumar surfaced on the social media. It questioned the informal bro-culture that exists in these growing areas often known as 'start-ups'. When Kalanick's emails surfaced, through Recode, they gave a sense of informality and misogyny which seems pervasive in this space.

Amidst these torrential times for Uber, reports have surfaced that the company is in talks to acquire valet parking service company Luxe.

Meanwhile, as the list of complaints continue to line up, and Eric Alexander being sacked, Kalanick's future in these troubled times remains uncertain.

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