It looks like the new CEO of Uber will be a step up for women at the company, though the bar for success is pretty low.
The company’s reported pick for chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, is not a woman, as many had hoped, but the 48-year-old is also apparently not your average Silicon Valley tech bro.
For starters, Khosrowshahi doesn’t work in Silicon Valley. He’s run travel website Expedia in Seattle for more than a decade. The son of Iranian refugees and an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, Khosrowshahi is a well-liked leader who’s been comparatively honest and upfront about Expedia’s shortcomings when it comes to achieving gender balance.
“As part of the Seattle/old Internet world, Khosrowshahi comes from outside Silicon Valley and its strangely entitled ways,” writes Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky. “In other words, he can walk the digital walk, but he’s not part of the oddly constricting mentality that makes it hard for denizens of Silicon Valley to communicate with real people.”
He’s also run a company that’s won awards for its work-life balance. That’s not always a perfect indicator that a company is a great place to work, but it’s certainly not a terrible sign.
And judging by the data, Expedia is out way ahead of Uber when it comes to hiring and retaining women. Fifty-one percent of Expedia’s U.S. employees are women, according to company data, and 33 percent of its leadership is female ― a number that’s not high enough, according to Khosrowshahi himself.
“While we compare well with many of our technology peers, we have a long way to go in bringing more female representation into leadership roles,” Khosrowshahi said last year in a press release. “We need to attract, hire, engage and promote talent of all kinds all around the world, and we believe that by enriching the diversity of our work force across all dimensions, including gender, we achieve the most enriched outcomes.”
Lately, Khosrowshahi has distinguished himself with some strong criticism of the Trump administration. Earlier this year, on a call with Wall Street analysts, he said darkly, “Hopefully we will all be alive to see the end of next year.”
His most recent tweet was a direct hit at the president. “I keep waiting for the moment when our Prez will rise to the expectations of his office and he fails, repeatedly,” Khosrowshahi tweeted, sharing a story about Trump’s equivocation on white supremacists.
Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, on the other hand, took a much more cautious approach to Trump. He drew criticism from his own employees for serving on Trump’s economic advisory council. At an internal meeting back in January, he told employees, “We’ll partner with anyone in the world as long they’re about making transportation ... better.”
Kalanick finally stepped down from the council after Uber customers started boycotting the company in the wake of Trump’s Muslim ban.
He also resisted efforts to diversify Uber ― even refusing to give internal recruiters access to data on gender and race at the company ― up until the very end of his tenure.
At Uber, 36 percent of full-timers in the U.S. and Canada are women, and just 22 percent of the leadership team is female, according to the company’s internal data.
And, of course, Uber has been under fire for the way it treats women since last February, when a former Uber engineer published a blog post detailing how she was sexually harassed by her boss there ― and how his behavior was ignored and tacitly approved of by the company.
The blog post helped bring about Kalanick’s ouster in June. He is still on the company’s board, however, and has reportedly played a role in selecting his successor.
Uber declined to comment.
Kalanick had a terrible track record when it came to sexism ― once referring to his company as “boober” because of how it helped him attract women. Kalanick’s ex-girlfriend Gabi Holzwarth, 27, told HuffPost in March that he essentially treated women as decoration.
If there were women around at all, outside of work, they were more likely to be models than other executives, she said. “You go to an event and there’s just a bunch of models they’ve flown in,” Holzwarth told HuffPost. “That’s what they like to play with. That’s pretty much it.”
So, Khosrowshahi ― who reportedly spends a lot of time outside work with his family ― wouldn’t have to do all that much to improve on Kalanick’s behavior.
And he’s already got a road map for success. Former Attorney General Eric Holder gave the company a 13-page report on how to improve the way it treats its employees.