[UPDATED] Uber replaces CEO due to sexist scandals, board member makes sexist comment during meeting announcing change

The company's pervasive sexist culture was a big reason for CEO Travis Kalanick's leave of absence

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published June 13, 2017 2:40PM (EDT)

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick   (Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick (Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is taking a leave of absence from the company he helped to found.

Kalanick informed the staff of his planned leave of absence on Tuesday, citing the recent death of his mother as a reason, according to a report by Bloomberg. It is expected that Kalanick's responsibilities within the company will be limited when he returns, as indicated by the board's decision to appoint an independent chair who will look into how to do that. The board is also searching for a chief operating officer who can help Kalanick run the company when he returns.

No firm date for Kalanick's return has been established.

The company will also review what new policies they should establish in the wake of a probe led by former attorney general Eric Holder, which investigated allegations of harassment, discrimination and a toxic workplace culture.

The scandals that have tarnished Kalanick's image include his alleged involvement, along with the company's former head of business Emil Michael, in inappropriately handling an Indian rape victim's medical records and causing a human resources complaint during a visit to a Seoul karaoke bar. There was also the scandal that emerged after former employee Susan Fowler made sexual harassment and discrimination allegations against the company in February, which prompted the investigations by Holder's law firm Covington & Burling LLP and by the law firm Perkins Coie LLP. These investigations ultimately led to the termination of more than 20 Uber employees.

Uber has tried to overhaul its corporate leadership with a series of new hires, including Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei as senior vice president for strategy and leadership, and Apple's Bozoma Saint John as chief brand officer.

During Uber's all-hands meeting on Tuesday — which was supposed to address how the company might change its purported sexist culture — an audio recording of the meeting obtained by Yahoo Finance revealed that a board member interrupted fellow board member Arianna Huffington with a sexist crack at her.

"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 during the meeting.

"Actually, what it shows is that it's much more likely to be more talking," board member David Bonderman said. "Ohh. Come on, David," Huffington replied, laughing subtly.

Bonderman later apologized, stating, "I want to apologize to my fellow board member for a disrespectful comment that was directed at her during today's discussion. It was inappropriate.  I also want to apologize to all Uber employees who were offended by the remark.  I deeply regret it," according to Business Insider.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa