Uber CEO Kalanick on leave, board member David Bonderman resigns following sexist remark

By @chelean on
89th Academy Awards - Oscars Vanity Fair Party - Beverly Hills, California, U.S. - 26/02/17 – Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick.
89th Academy Awards - Oscars Vanity Fair Party - Beverly Hills, California, U.S. - 26/02/17 – Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick. Reuters/Danny Moloshok

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is taking some time off to grieve his mother, it was announced Tuesday. His temporary departure comes while the company is facing yet another sexism scandal after a board member’s remark on women came to light. David Bonderman has just announced his resignation following his comment.

Kalanick’s mother, who died last month in a boating accident, was buried on Friday. He announced to the board that he would take a step back from managing the company to give himself time to grieve her passing. The board voted unanimously to adopt all recommendations set in the Covington & Burling’s report, which allocated some of his responsibilities and suggested changes in the company operation.

During the meeting on Tuesday, board member Ariana Huffington also informed everyone that a new female member, Ling Martello, has been added to the board in a bid to increase diversity. Yahoo Finance has obtained the audio of the meeting, in which another board member is heard making a sexist comment about the addition.

“There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” Huffington said, to which Bonderman replied, “Actually what it shows is it’s much likely to be more talking.”

Huffington appeared to laugh at his comment, saying, “Oh, come on, David. Don’t worry, David will have a lot of talking to do as well.” She then moved on to their next topic: cultural change in the company.

Bonderman’s comment on women did not go unnoticed on social media and even during the board meeting. According to New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, the room was “apparently aghast.”

His comment couldn’t be more untimely as the company was in the middle of addressing changes in a bid to overcome the scandals that have been plaguing the company for months. These include sexual harassment claims that it has received from Uber riders and even employees.

After the meeting, employees allegedly sent numerous emails to their managers and to head of human resources, Liane Hornsey, to complain about Bonderman’s remarks. Bonderman quickly apologised, sending an email to admit fault.

“I want to apologise to my fellow board member for a disrespectful comment that was directed at her during today’s discussion,” his email reads. “It was inappropriate. I also want to apologise to all Uber employees who were offended by the remark. I deeply regret it.”

Later, he announced his resignation, saying he takes full responsibility for the destructive effect of his comment. “I do not want my comments to create distraction as Uber works to build a culture of which we can be proud. I need to hold myself to the same standards that we’re asking Uber to adopt. Therefore, I have decided to resign from Uber’s board of directors, effective tomorrow morning.”

Bonderman is the founding partner of private equity company TPG Capital, which is an investor in Uber. That would mean that his position would not be vacant soon as TPG is expected to send a replacement for him immediately.

Uber scandals

The ride-sharing firm has been involved in a number of allegations for years. In 2014, former senior VP Emil Michael suggested that the company hire a team of opposition researchers and journalists to dig into the lives of media figures reporting negative news about Uber. He also contacted Kalanick’s ex-girlfriend to tell her to hide an HR complaint. This backfired as she went to the press instead.

In February 2017, former Uber engineer Susan J Fowler complained that she was sexually harassed by a manager and threatened with termination if she reported it. Kalanick was allegedly aware of the harassment issue but did nothing, as well as company CTO Thuan Pham.

Also in February, a video was released showing Kalanick shimmying between two women in an Uber vehicle before yelling at the driver.

Last week, Recode reported that a top Uber exec obtained the medical records of a woman raped during a ride in India. Eric Alexander, the president of business in the Asia Pacific, apparently showed the record to Kalanick and Michael. Alexander is no longer with the company.

The revelations were part of the claims reported to Covington & Burling and Perkins Coie law firms, which both investigated the mismanagement and harassment claims in the company. As part of the investigation, 20 employees have since been fired for a range of infractions, including sexual harassment, unprofessional behaviour and retaliation.