A board member is at a high-level meeting about the changes an organization needs to make because of problems with harassment and discrimination. Of course that is the time to make a sexist comment. Welcome to the self-generating crisis that is Uber. David Bonderman, now a former member of the board was part of the following exchange:
“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.
In response, Bonderman said: “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.”
The statements were verified and made public by unhappy Uber employees who also reported the events to human resources. It seems Uber desperately wants to make itself part of the crisis communication curriculum as an example of what not to do. This is a great example of a double crisis, a situation where the crisis response makes the situation worse by creating another crisis. For a thorough explanation of double crisis see Frandsen and Johansen’s 2017 book, Organizational Crisis Communication. (It is a very good book to read and to reference).
At least Bonderman and Uber saw the problem and he resigned with the following statement:
“Today at Uber’s all-hands meeting, I directed a comment to my colleague and friend Arianna Huffington that was careless, inappropriate, and inexcusable. The comment came across in a way that was the opposite of what I intended, but I understand the destructive effect it had, and I take full responsibility for that. Having worked with the company for the last few months on the Holder report, I recognize the importance of implementing the requirements of the report. Uber is examining the issues with its culture, and making significant changes and working to right what has been done wrong, which is extremely important for the future of the company. 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. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve on Uber’s board, and I look forward to seeing the company’s progress and future success.”
Bonderman gives an appropriate response because he takes responsibility for his actions, he recognizes why the statement was a problem and its negative effects, and resigns (corrective action). But the damage was already done. As Uber is announcing how it wants to change a problematic culture, the traditional and social media are reporting about the effects of a problematic culture—the comment and resignation.
I like to say that crisis communication should follow the principle of “do no harm.” A double crisis is a sure sign you violated that principle. Silence is a sub-optimal response but can be a better alternative than some choices. During a crisis an organization is under increased scrutiny. That demands managers be careful about what they say or do. How can Uber be taken serious about a culture change when the problems with that culture keep re-emerging. Media are already speculating on whether or not Uber can change its culture and beginning to document the negative effects of this current cluster of crises on hiring and customers.
Questions to Consider
- How can Uber management address the concerns about the ability to change the company’s culture—what is next for their reputation repair?
- Why would this comment become such a concern on social media?
- Why might Uber’s actions finally be affecting customers? Think about how it can relate to outrage.
- Why are double crises so problematic?