A year later, what Uber has done to revamp its troubled image

  • In June 2017 Uber's board of directors unanimously approved a set of recommendations by former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to dramatically revamp the ridesharing giant's troubled management and culture.
  • Now, one year later, Bo Young Lee, Uber's first-ever diversity and inclusion officer, discusses the progress the company has made thus far to diversity its workforce, improve its culture and build out its management team.
  • CEO Dara Khosrowshahi hopes the company can turn around in time for a 2019 IPO.
Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi

In June 2017 Uber's board of directors unanimously approved a set of recommendations presented by former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to dramatically revamp the ridesharing giant's troubled management and culture.

Last February the company was hit with widespread allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination; a lawsuit by Google's Waymo self-driving car program accusing Uber of stealing trade secrets; a video showing Kalanick berating an Uber driver, an investigation by the Justice Dept. for using a program to evade law enforcement so it could operate in cities where it was banned. And so much more.

In March 2017 Uber retained Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, partners at the law firm Covington & Burling, to perform a thorough and objective review of the company's workplace environment. The investigation came after Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber Technologies, published a blog post on Feb. 19 detailing allegations of harassment, discrimination and retaliation during her employment and the ineffectiveness of the company's then-existing policies and procedures.

Shortly after, an examination of 215 staff complaints led to the firing of more than 20 Uber employees.

The 13-page "Holder Report" suggested widespread changes to Uber's senior leadership, including paring down founder and CEO Travis Kalanick's role. (A few days later, on June 13, Kalanick announced that he would be taking a leave of absence to grieve the loss of his mother, who had died as a result of injuries sustained in a boating accident, and to allow the embattled company to focus on improving its corporate culture.)

Uber's headquarters in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Uber's headquarters in San Francisco, California.

Among other things, the report also advocated for limiting alcohol during workdays and company events; prohibiting intimate relationships between employees and bosses'; establishing key metrics to which senior leaders would be held accountable; increasing the profile of Uber's head of diversity and inclusion; restructuring its board of directors to include independent board seats, along with an oversight committee to instill and enhance a culture of ethical business practices; broadening its training and human resources teams; providing an effective complaint process; establishing an employee diversity board and regularly publishing its diversity statistics.

Now, one year later, Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, is looking to take the company public in 2019. But he still has a ways to go with respect to rebuilding the brand, improving the overall product, instilling diversity and building out his management team. That includes hiring a chief financial officer, he said.

Uber's progress one year later

Responding to the report, Uber hired Bo Young Lee to be its first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer. Lee's executive appointment is the third under Khosrowshahi. Only three months in her new role, she is taking her position very seriously, overseeing diversity and inclusion strategies, such as diversity hiring, training and employee support groups.

Speaking at CNBC's @Work event on Wednesday in New York City, Lee said, "We did go through quite a bit of trauma last year as an organization, and I always try to remind people that Uber is made up of 18,000 people and there are thousands of people within Uber who are change agents right now, who want to see us become a a better organization and to live the true vision that we want to be. We were Uber 1.0 and we don't want that anymore. We want to be Uber 2.0."

Bo Young Lee, Uber
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Bo Young Lee, Uber
"A lot of building inclusion into the culture is less about the mind and the data and more about the heart and the stories and the connections."

Although not significant, the company has seen an uptick this year in the overall representation of women. In 2018 the total percentage of women in Uber's global workforce is 38 percent, up 1.9 percent over last year. (The company has brought several women onto its leadership team: Susan Anderson is Uber's new general manager in Australia and New Zealand; Jodie Auster is Australia and New Zealand general manager of Uber Eats. They join three other women on Uber's eight-person executive team in Australia.)

Women in technical leadership roles — those at director level and above in areas including tech, engineering and product — grew 4.3 percent, up to 15.6 percent. The percentage of female tech workers, such as engineers and IT specialists, also grew, from 15.4 percent to about 18 percent this year.

"A lot of building inclusion into the culture is less about the mind and the data and more about the heart and the stories and the connections. So I encourage people to connect and tell their stories so there's a combination of heart and mind," Lee said at the CNBC event.

Achieving gender parity isn't a task that's new to Khosrowshahi. As CEO of Expedia, he helped the company bring its U.S. workforce to 51 percent women and 49 percent men, according to company data from June 2016.

Although Uber's Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John announced last week that she is stepping down from the company after just a year to become the chief marketing officer for Endeavor, a holding company for powerhouse talent, marketing and literary agencies, she told CNBC at Cannes Lions on Tuesday that Uber is "on its way to being great. It's not there yet."

She added that Khosrowshahi "is sincere in what he wants to do, along with the leadership team. ... The culture is much better. It's on its path."