Uber published a report on how their tech staff is 85 percent male and, generally, they hire few non-white/non-Asians within the U.S. (see, e.g., New York Times). The founder/CEO (a.k.a. “rich white guy”) says that the company has “a commitment to change.” Part of the Times coverage is based on a female site reliability engineer (new name for “syadmin”?) who wrote about her boss “looking for women to have sex with”.
[One angle I am pretty sure that the New York Times did not cover: Given the typical disparity (inequality?) in pay of a Silicon Valley startup company, in which the earlier arrivals receive stock grants or options worth 10X or 100X what later-hired folks doing the same job get, and given the California child support formula, a woman could get lot more cash for having sex with a senior/early Uber employee than by working as a junior/late-hired Uber employee.]
The message of the study and the article seems to be that Uber has done something regrettable by building a non-diverse workforce. However, given that the company is one of the most successful business enterprises ever created (see, e.g. Business Insider and this article on how Uber grew faster than Facebook), could these data be interpreted in another way? If we assume that diversity of workforce had any effect on company success, why isn’t it just as plausible that the lack of diversity was somehow helpful? One argument for diversity in tech and in management is that it impossible for white/Asian guys to understand diverse customers. Uber would seem to disprove that theory. The drivers come from all over the world and are based all over the world. The customers are similarly about as diverse as any customer base could be (essentially anyone who wants to get from Point A to Point B, has a phone, and can afford $5). Why isn’t Uber the ultimate demonstration that the market brings together people from different backgrounds? (i.e., you might not ever go to a mosque, but you’ll take a ride from a Muslim driver if he or she is the closest to you; you might not have any white/male American friends but you’ll use a service run by white/male Americans)
[Not to beat a dead horse too much, but given that the New York Times argues separately that gender is fluid and unmoored to genetics, why do they report as credible Uber’s categorization of employees into “men” and “women”? How would Uber know what the gender identification of their workers is going to be tomorrow morning, for example?]
Readers: What do you think? Does publicizing the fact that one of the world’s most rapidly successful companies is mostly white/Asian guys make other employers say “Whoa. Let’s try not to end up like those Uber founders, early-hired managers, and investors”?
19 thoughts on “Uber demonstrates that diversity is irrelevant or harmful to business success?”
in which the earlier arrivals receive stock grants or options worth 10X or 100X what later-hired folks doing the same job get, and given the California child support formula, a woman could get lot more cash for having sex with a senior/early Uber employee
For our grievance-calibration, the accused appears to be a currently male-identifying Indian coming from a similarly senior position at Google. (No idea about how HR identifies, etc.) Hence, I’d say the outlook in that respect was good. However, it appears she didn’t take that route.
Of course, we cannot at this remove know if what was recounted actually happened or if it was, perhaps, an expedient way to get rid of one’s superior. It’s possible we will hear the other sides at some later stage as well.
By the way, it can’t be possible that lack of diversity, incidental or not, helps in any way. Diversity is your greatest strength!
Not to mention “the role of gender in team collaboration and performance”:
Unless it has been debunked. But surely it hasn’t.
It’s possible the enormous growth had more to do with the heavily subsidized far cheaper than actual cost rides (and cheaper even than rides by bus), and the law breaking behaviors of Uber than the skin colors of the engineers.
Looking at this pragmatically, maintaining a patina of diversity is a required compliance task for corporate leaders. Sexual harassment and discrimination is illegal and subject to costly, distracting litigation. But it’s hard to prove either way in court, so it’s not enough to simply not do it; you have to look like you aren’t the type of company that would engage in it. So “supporting diversity” is at some level just litigation risk management. This is actually something Uber ought to be good at, as they face many forms of litigation risk.
From the investor’s perspective, if you’re funding a bunch of rich assholes you need to strike a balance. You want them arrogant enough to take audacious steps around barriers (like taxi regulations) but not *so* arrogant that their company implodes before you cash out. Uber is at serious risk of pulling a Groupon, where they grow fast by losing money and yet ultimately fail to have a defensible product.
Isn’t a uber a huge pyramid scheme burning through billions that is going to collapse soon? The real lesson to take away is that non-whites/asians are more scrupulous and don’t stoop to such frauds. Better to invest with the 100% diverse company.
More regrettably, there’s some solid anecdotal evidence that they’re pretty awful people, as well. I’m beginning to think that, as an employee, the dreaded “lifestyle company” is the way to go.
When folks promote diversity, I like to suggest adding ex convicts, recovered alcoholics/drug addicts, sex offenders and racists to the team on the premise that they are likely to bring different viewpoints. My suggestions have always been rejected.
I am not at all sure the premise is true. Uber is losing money hand-over-fist, and it’s not immediately apparent how they’ll turn this around.
If this is success, give me failure.
> When folks promote diversity, I like to suggest adding ex convicts, recovered alcoholics/drug addicts, sex offenders and racists to the team on the premise that they are likely to bring different viewpoints. My suggestions have always been rejected.
In Uber’s favor, they explicitly want to hire “non-violent” ex cons and former prostitutes to the driving position.
And they have many times over violent felons too. (Some cynically claim that is why Uber doesn’t want to pay for fingerprinting and DOJ / FBI background checks but would prefer a Silicon Valley company’s idea of background checks.)
It seems like every other article these days takes some tech company du jour XYZ and asks ‘is it diverse enough, are women represented’ ?
I’m still waiting to read an article lamenting the lack of diversity and gender equality in construction, sewer cleaning, coal mining, and trash pickup. I guess no one really feels passionate about the glass basement like I do. And what about female dominated jobs (eg. wedding planners, nurses, teachers, human resource managers), why can’t they diversify?
The lifestyle company may indeed be better, though from what I’ve read the usual suspects (Google, Microsoft, FB, et al) nowadays provide a rather comfortable experience with more resources, competitive compensation and, perhaps, less shouting. If you can get in, that is.
For the older developers among us, Netflix has been, and may still be, willing to bet on experience over enthusiasm. There may be others too, but I can’t recall them offhand. I get cold called/mailed by tech cos even though I’m probably past my working prime, so in this respect things seem less grim than they were ten years ago. Let’s see whether that sentiment survives a tech crash.
The point made by bobbybobbob is correct. Uber is not a successful business. A quick Google search shows that it’s burning through its cash at a rapid rate. Perhaps it could be considered to be a successful charity, providing low cost transportation to working class people funded by rich investors. Clearly something big needs to change if they want make a profit. If they don’t have any ideas, they could try hiring ssme black and Hispanic people before they go belly up. It probably wouldn’t hurt.
Vince, et al: Uber is not successful because of current cashflow? Have you looked at established versus startup cities in your analysis? If they are losing money in a brand new market (to them), why is that a concern? If they are losing money in markets where they’ve been operating for five years that would be more interesting. I would want to see the analog to the standard “same store sales” metric used for retailers.
Wouldn’t your analysis apply equally to Amazon? They are not successful because they lost money year after year?
And, since you know that the investors paying $50-75 billion for this company are stupid (because the true value is $0 or negative), what are your plans for going short and becoming crazy rich?
Uber’s eventual success or failure will not by itself demonstrate that “diversity” (if that is what you want to call not allowing managers to use their position to pressure subordinates for sexual favors; I’d call it “decency”) is harmful, helpful, or irrelevant to business success. Regardless of the actual effect of “diversity” on business success, it is unlikely to be a driving factor for a disruptive company like Uber.
>female site reliability engineer (new name for “syadmin”?)
I don’t know about her role at Uber, but her books are not about system administration.
>And, since you know that the investors paying $50-75
>billion for this company are stupid (because the true value
>is $0 or negative), what are your plans for going short
>and becoming crazy rich?
Saying that Uber is on track or even likely to fail (which I don’t have any opinion on) is not calling investors stupid. They may be in it for the large upside in the event of success (even if they agree that is unlikely). Saying that Uber is on track or even likely to fail is not the same as saying that going short on Uber is a good (or at least low risk) investment.
There is nothing wrong with losing money when a business is starting out, *if* there is some concrete path to profitability later. Trouble is, the business model is flawed. For Uber, as near as I can tell, the costs exceed the revenues, and scaling this model ever larger doesn’t make things better. It’s a Ponzi scheme, as others have pointed out. Living in the Bay Area, I’ve seen this over, and over, and over (pets.com, anyone?).
Early investors cash out, and the investing public is left with worthless stock.
This scheme was performed with great results for financiers during the last “technology boom.” You may remember it, it was called “railroads.”
> site reliability engineer (new name for “syadmin”?)
There’s a lot more to the position than sysadmin. The term originated at Google, but has spread to many other tech companies (probably brought there by ex-Googlers).
They’ve even written a book about it:
> Wouldn’t your analysis apply equally to Amazon? They are not successful because they lost money year after year?
There are a lot of smart people who also say that Amazon is going to blow up at some point. They even go so far as to say Amazon accounting is fraudulent. The short positions keep getting blown out year after year but the next real recession might be revealing.
Uriel: Thanks for the link. I looked at the book’s table of contents. It looks like 90% what we called, in the 1980s and 1990s, “sysadmin.” What SREs do is challenging? SREs have to write code? Back in the 1980s and 1990s we thought that syadmin was challenging and that, done properly, required writing code.
> The real lesson to take away is that non-whites/asians are more scrupulous and don’t stoop to such frauds.
Ha – that’s pretty funny, but I can’t let it go… Have you had a “Windows Support Call” from Pakistan? Or had IP ripped off China? Or had near infinite delays getting paid by an Indian company. Or lost big deals into Indonesia because the competitor is being advised by a government family member? Maybe had a nice letter from Nigeria asking for help to move some $s out of the country – not just unscrupulous, but people have had their throats slit trying to recover their money?
Sure, “white guys” can probably get more funding up front to do it on a grander scale, and with better branding, but to relate scruples to skin-color is a bit of a stretch.
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