Corporate Culture is Pervasive and Resilient

And sometimes that's a terrible thing.

There isn’t a lot to say that hasn’t already been said about Susan Fowler’s recount of her time at Uber. On the one hand. I am heartened by the growing backlash that is well-deserved. I am disheartened that it took so many years for us to realize what a horribly immoral company Uber appears to be.

I was never an Uber customer. Sure, I’ve taken rides that friends have ordered, but I have never paid for an Uber ride myself. The early stories of Uber’s behavior as a company made me not want to be supportive. There were marketing dirty tricks and very poor reactions to incidents involving their drivers.

Each thing that occurred made it clear, at least to me, that this was a company that was very comfortable living in a moral gray area (to put it nicely). All of this followed on the lead of the behavior of the company CEO. Note how many years back the behavior went (at least in terms of public “scandals”). Even the blatant sexism that Fowler endured is obvious in so many of his early comments.

In my experience, corporate culture is built from the top down and eventually infects everyone in the company - particularly when it is dysfunctional. That is not to say that everyone at Uber is as morally compromised as their CEO, but they are surviving in a dysfunctional system that is defined, in part, by its acceptance of questionable morality (encouraged by a win at any costs mentality) and open sexism.

One way of surviving in a system like this is (as Susan notes in her story), keeping your head down and focusing on work - avoiding any conflict or interaction that might embroil you in the dysfunction around you. The other way is by thriving on the dysfunction. This is why a dysfunctional corporate culture can be so resilient. Potential allies have been chastened or frightened into inaction and silence and the remaining people have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

That’s why I personally have no faith in Uber’s stated intent to root out this issue. Especially when the person most responsible for creating it (as noted above) is the one managing the cleaning.

The good news, in my experience anyway, is that healthy and supportive corporate cultures are resilient as well. Speaking up is promoted and everyone tends to have a vested interest in maintaining (or improving) the status quo. When problems arise, they are usually handled properly and expediently to prevent issues spreading. This is why, who I work with has become as important to me when choosing a role as where I work (or even how much I am paid). I am never going to face the sexism that Susan had to face, but I want to work with people who support and care for each other.