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SMH, Uber (Gwen Moritz Editor’s Note)

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This really happened last week:

The directors of privately held Uber Inc. were reviewing the recommendations contained in a report they had commissioned after their company’s boys’ club culture had become too toxic to ignore. Arianna Huffington, the conservative pundit turned liberal internet entrepreneur, explained to fellow directors that adding one woman to a corporate board often leads to the addition of more women — a development she clearly sees as a positive thing.

David Bonderman, a director representing private equity investor TPG, responded, “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.”

SMH, Uber. (That’s social media shorthand for “shaking my head,” the way one must when words fail.)

By the time I heard about Bonderman’s real-time demonstration of what’s wrong with Uber, he had resigned from the board and Huffington had responded with a sublime backhanded compliment: “I appreciate David doing the right thing for Uber at this time of critical cultural changes at the company.”

I’ve used Uber a few times, and I’ve had good experiences with it. It’s a great idea for making productive, profitable use of excess capacity, and the technology is simply amazing. But ideas and technology are still at the mercy of management, and the management of Uber is just horrible.

We knew that CEO Travis Kalanick was a jerk — that was captured on video when he lost his cool with his own Uber driver for expressing dissatisfaction with business decisions that negatively impacted the front line. Just hours before Bonderman’s faux pas, Kalanick had announced a leave of absence to “work on myself,” a noble purpose for a man who had created thousands of jobs and a miserable environment.

We weren’t surprised to learn that a “leader” like that, especially in Silicon Valley, had embedded sexism in the company’s DNA. That’s why the board hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to study the problems and make the recommendations that Bonderman belatedly realized also applied to him. Twenty employees have been fired, and so many executives have left — voluntarily or not — that The New York Times gently described “something of a leadership void at the company.”

Clearly there was a leadership void in the first place. “Good to Great,” the management bible I wrote about last week, would be really instructive here — wrong people, right people, seats on the bus headed in the right direction, etc.

I haven’t used Uber since all the rot at its core became public knowledge, but I haven’t actually needed to hail a ride lately, so I haven’t had to decide whether to continue patronizing such a bad company. (Unlike, say, Fox News bloviator Sean Hannity, who complained that boycotts of his advertisers were “liberal fascism,” I’m a believer in good, old-fashioned, free-market economic pressure.) Two weeks ago, I would probably have skipped it; today I’d probably use it to reward steps taken in the right direction.

I’m not a big fan of Arianna Huffington or of the HuffPost website that she founded and sold, but she’s right about corporate boards. Where there’s one woman, there are often more than one.

But that’s not because women suddenly clamor to join a board they previously shunned. Surely we all know that’s not how it works. It’s because a company that recognizes the value of a diverse board will seek out more than token diversity.

Here’s where I give a shout-out to Simmons First National Corp. of Pine Bluff, which for the first time has two women on its board of directors — Mindy West, CFO of Murphy USA of El Dorado, and newest addition Susan Lanigan, EVP and general counsel of retailer Chico’s FAS Inc. (Now to catch up with Bank of the Ozarks, which has four women directors — fully 25 percent of the board.)

The greatest neologism (“new word”) of my lifetime is mansplain. It didn’t seem to exist 10 years ago, was included in the Oxford online dictionary as an “informal” word in 2014 and now is a tired cliche.

That’s because having men explain things that we already understand, oftentimes better than the helpful explainer, is the philtrum of female experience — something everyone has but didn’t know it had a name.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com — after you’ve figured out what a philtrum is.
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