Uber once gave a leather jacket to every male employee. Here's why you should care.

December 12, 2018

When Susan Fowler, a former Uber employee, discovered that her company was giving away brand new leather jackets to all employees, she was pretty stoked. She and her female colleagues eagerly awaited their gifts until they realised, much to their surprise, that only the men were receiving jackets.

Clearly this was just a mistake, they thought.

When they complained, their amusement quickly turned to shock when they were advised that “there were not enough women in the organization to justify placing an order” and that if they wanted leather jackets, they “needed to find jackets that were the same price as the bulk-order price of the men’s jackets”.

Whilst there are are way too many issues here to unpack and criticise, let’s just focus on one: that “bro culture” was so ingrained in the fabric of Uber’s company culture, the executives who decided to make the order in the first place did not even consider the possibility that making such a blatantly discriminatory decision was going to cause an understandable level of outrage.

With the recent controversy surrounding Uber’s status as an “unfriendly place for women to work”, this story doesn’t seem particularly surprising. What is surprising is the fact that in 2017, we have a massive base of research which proves that gender diversity is essential to high-performing companies yet many companies are turning a blind eye to the “bro culture” running rampant within their teams.

Whether a diverse organization can outperform a homogenous one is no longer just a question for HR professionals and academic researchers. To yield the best returns, investors and other stakeholders should be seeking out companies with the highest levels of diversity. Workplace diversity and inclusive organizational policies are not empty slogans or HR jargon – they are good business decisions that drive company growth and progress.

Diversity research conducted by McKinsey & Company makes it clear that companies with the highest levels of diversity are more likely to perform better than the industry average. The study found that companies in the top 25% for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above the industry average. When companies commit themselves to diversity they become more attractive to top talent, and this drives great customer satisfaction, higher employee engagement, and better decision making. All of these factors create a more effective and profitable organization.

Most people already know that diverse teams tend to make better decisions and that this is a function of the different opinions and perspectives that a diverse group brings to the table.

There are many reasons why diverse teams outperform their homogeneous counterparts:

Facts and Feedback: Diverse teams are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective. Dissimilar individuals are also more likely to scrutinize each other’s decisions and actions, ask questions, and provide feedback. Individuals in diverse teams are more likely to become aware of their own biases, making the group more sharp and vigilant as a whole.

Inclusive Decision Making: How thoroughly the facts are considered is a key factor in effective decision making. Constructive debates and conversations are important when a team is assessing facts, and gender plays an important role: women exhibit higher levels of social perceptiveness and teams with more women achieve greater equality in participation. A recent study by Aparna Joshi  also highlights the importance of gender diversity for effectively using the expertise of each team member. Women are more effective in evaluating expertise and ensuring that the skills and abilities of each team member are used.

Innovation: One of the best ways to boost innovation and creativity is by hiring more women and culturally diverse team members. In a study published in Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, it was found that companies with more women were more likely to introduce radical new innovations into the market.

Given that workplace diversity drives higher returns and bottom line results, organizations should invest in measures that facilitate inclusiveness and gender diversity. A 2016 research by McKinsey & Company shows that there are three main characteristics shared by companies with best-in-class diversity practices:

1. Persistence: Companies identified as diversity leaders initiated their diversity programs earlier, indicating that it takes time to effect tangible, sustainable results.

2. CEO Commitment: Workplace diversity needs to start at the top and be a priority at every level of the organization. Companies that have built gender diversity successfully at the leadership level are twice as likely to place gender diversity among the top three priorities on their strategic agenda, and to integrate gender diversity throughout the organization.

3. Comprehensive Programs: Diversity leaders have well-defined programs with ingrained expectations and metrics at all levels of the organization. They are also publically vocal about their commitment to diversity, and about the programs, policies, and processes they have put in place.

Although the majority of people are more comfortable working with others with similar backgrounds, this comfort sacrifices the success of the team and organization. Recruiting a diverse range of employees from different genders, races, and nationalities, allows companies to avoid the costly pitfalls of conformity: less creativity, less innovation, less productive conflict, poorer decision-making practices.

To realize the improved financial results that come from the creation of diverse teams and workplaces, an organization needs to make a long-term commitment to inclusive hiring practices and organizational programs that support workplace diversity. How do you do this?

First step: don’t be like Uber. Uber found out way too late that their “bro culture” was slowly eating away at the integrity of their organisation. Not only do they have countless legal battles to deal with, their reputation has been permanently tarnished by the brush of discrimination and they are likely to miss out on plenty of talent who will now refuse to even consider them as an option. You may not think you have a “bro culture” problem but unless you take appropriate steps to find out, you might only discover that you did when your name is splashed across the newspapers with the dreaded “sexual harassment” word attached.

Invest in developing consistent feedback systems within your teams so any potential problems can be addressed before they become a serious problem. This is absolutely crucial. Creating psychological safety amongst your employees is a necessary first step to achieving this and something you can develop in partnership with your HR team.

Need more advice on building a strong & diverse team? Shoot through a message to us and we’ll be glad to help!

Author

Ohyoon Kwon
Ohyoon Kwon is the Founder of WeQ. His background in design thinking has led him to explore the intersection between gamification and building high-performance teams. Ohyoon is passionate about creating amazing user experiences and bringing teams closer together.

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