Uber on Tuesday finally did what many in the tech industry and Bay Area had been calling on it to do for years: It released its first diversity report. After all the buildup, the figures in the report, somewhat surprisingly, show a workplace that is about as diverse as any of its peers in the tech industry, which is to say: not very.
The company is overwhelming represented by white men, especially in tech and leadership roles. There are not many minorities, and its representation of women needs to improve (especially considering Uber’s unfortunate history of treating women with unconcern or worse). But the same could be said to a lesser or greater degree of almost any big tech firm. There’s nothing here that singles out Uber as a target of criticism.
That invites the question: Why was Uber so reluctant to release these numbers? If the point wasn’t to avoid yet another PR black eye, what was it?
The only answer appears to be that the company did not want to bear the responsibility and accountability to the public that would come with disclosing them.
Consider the circumstances. Uber agreed to release the data only after encountering the greatest crisis in the company’s history: the firestorm of criticism ignited by a scathing account of sexism and harassment by a former engineer. For the first time since Uber was founded, informed analysts are talking seriously about the prospect of CEO Travis Kalanick being forced to step down.
As we have seen throughout its existence, Uber values its independence and it does not like answering to authorities. The company’s entire business was built by finding the gray areas in local transportation regulations and squeezing into them. In fact, Uber actually had an entire software program that allowed its drivers to circumvent and avoid local law enforcement (Uber recently said it will no longer use its software this way).
This allergy to accountability extends beyond answering to governments.
Take Uber’s financial information. Despite being eight years old and carrying the highest valuation of any private company on the planet, Uber has not taken any significant steps toward an initial public offering. It doesn’t even have a CFO. Sure, going public gives companies a status symbol to be envious of and helps them raise capital that is critical to continued growth, but with that comes a responsibility to the outside world and rigorous scrutiny from Wall Street. Every three months, Uber would be required to share its revenue, profits and ridership figures — all of which are data points that these days investors only see when there is a leak from within the company once every blue moon.
But the secrecy does not end there.
It wasn’t until last year that Uber finally released its initial transparency report. This type of report, which is released annually or bi-annually by most major tech companies that store users’ sensitive data, is critical to giving consumers and privacy experts an idea of what requests for information a company receives from governments around the world.
Similarly, it wasn’t until a year ago that Uber also finally released information showing the public just how many customer complaints it receives having to do with sexual assault. The company only released the information after two BuzzFeed reporters were leaked screenshots of the data from an Uber customer representative that the company claims was not accurate.
By releasing its transparency report and sexual assault complaints information, Uber established an expectation with the public that it will continue to do the same year after year just as its peers in the tech industry do. And now with its diversity report, the company has done the same.
Most tech companies that have released diversity reports have committed to updating them on annual basis. As the country moves toward a future where white people will no longer be the majority by the year 2040, the scrutiny around the release of this data can be intense.
The diversity figures released by Uber on Tuesday were on par with the tech industry, but now that the company has made them available, the public has been given a measuring stick and the company has committed to its most significant form of outside accountability yet.
The first diversity report doesn’t mean much. It’s all about the circumstances of Uber’s present moment. A year from now — that’s when we’ll see just how committed to diversity and inclusion Uber truly is.