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Arianna Huffington: Culture is 'a company's immune system'

Arianna Huffington
David Orrell | CNBC
Arianna Huffington

As a board member at Uber, Arianna Huffington has been active in trying to improve the company's image and culture amidst sexual harassment allegations and leadership changes this year.

In an interview as part of New York Advertising Week, Huffington described corporate culture as "a company's immune system."

"Ultimately," she says, "your health depends on your immune system."

Like many tech companies that have been criticized for discrimination and a homogeneous workforce, Uber has implemented solutions to try to repair its "immune system."

According to its diversity page, the company has started interview training to make its process more inclusive for women, and has pledged to emphasize recruiting top talent from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as well as Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs).

Additionally, after pledging $3 million earlier this year to support organizations working to promote diversity in tech, the company invested $1.2 million in Girls Who Code.

But Huffington says it takes more than quotas to actually fix a culture.

"It's not enough to keep hiring more women and more minorities, you need to make the conditions where they can actually contribute and feel at home and not feel they have to constantly be fighting against the culture," says Huffington.

As an example, she says she advocated for the renaming of an Uber conference room from "War Room" to "Peace Room," as certain workplace language can make women feel less welcome.

"If you walk into a place and the only language used are war metaphors like 'we're killing it' and 'we're crushing it,' it's going to make women feel that this is less of their place," says Huffington.

"Ultimately, your health depends on your immune system." -Arianna Huffington

Huffington also says employers should be mindful of who workplace perks benefit and exclude.

"If you go to the headquarters of a company and you are a young mother and you have to pump in the bathroom while there are plenty of rooms for ping pong tables, there is something wrong," she says. "If you walk into a workplace and you find that the only way to bond with your team is at drunken parties, then this is not a place hospitable for women."

While many companies rely on added benefits and perks to overshadow employee problems, Huffington says regardless of what's offered, employers should understand that "if your workplace is not hospitable to women, then [your company's culture is] not going to be a good culture."

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