The woman tapped to change Uber’s culture is bringing some baggage along for the ride…
“Can Arianna Huffington Save Uber?”
That was the March 2017 headline of an NPR story, which detailed Uber’s series of plights: the company’s president had just resigned after six months on the job; its CEO was caught on camera arguing with one of the company’s own drivers on the treatment of its employees; and most damningly, a former employee went public with blockbuster allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct within the $50 billion company.
Enter Huffington, who joined the Uber board of directors about a year earlier, and since then, her influence has only grown. She quickly became the “public voice” of Uber and one of CEO Travis Kalanick’s “closest confidants,” according to the New York Times on Saturday.
Heralded as the “chief” of Uber’s internal campaign for a “culture change,” Huffington told reporters back in March that she would be “holding [Uber’s] feet to the fire” to ensure the company followed through on its commitment to change.
But a closer look at Huffington’s past reveals a line of thinking about the role of women, particularly in the workplace, that could be out of step with today’s standards.
In 1973, Huffington published a book, “The Female Woman,” written under her maiden name, Arianna Stassinopoulos. The book is a full-frontal attack on the women’s liberation movement, then in its heyday, and even includes a blurb from the U.K.’s Sunday Telegraph that reads, “Arianna socks it to women’s lib” on the cover.
Huffington’s central argument in the book appears to refute the mindset that men and women are the same and should be treated equally. She strongly takes the position that the sexes are different by definition, and should be treated as such. But in so doing, Huffington’s argument likely overreaches in the eyes modern-day liberals.
Here, Huffington argues a woman’s success is actually determined by the success of her man:
“A man’s status is judged by his occupational success. A woman’s status depends also on her success as a wife and mother and on her husband’s occupation as well as her own,” Huffington wrote in The Working Woman chapter.
Later in that same chapter, she argues women are more likely to let men fight over power and status, while women in the workplace are devoid of ambition and are just happy to be employed.
“Even in a situation that [favors] them, women may well prefer to stay in a job they enjoy and which is not too demanding rather than to take the ‘liberated’ step of getting in there and fighting it out for power and status.”
The book is peppered with out-of-touch statements: a woman’s “central purpose” is “a good home for the family,” for example.
But Huffington actually reserves some of her most eye-popping statements for men and women’s sexuality. In the chapter titled, The Male Man, Huffington makes some startling claims about the results of a fatherless home.
“The small boy cannot identify with his father as easily for he will normally see far more of his mother,” she wrote. “In a home where there is no father at all, the boys may well grow up ineffectual and weak. They may become homosexuals or over-compensate by being tough and violent, indulging in assaults, robberies or rape.”
On the women’s side, Huffington labels lesbianism a “deviation” in chapter 3, The Sexual Woman, even going as far as to call it an “inner confusion” among some women.
“The one form of deviation from the norm that is common among women is lesbianism,” Huffington wrote. “Though lesbians are not subject to the same degree of social harassment as male homosexuals, there is illustrative evidence to show that lesbians often end up being unfulfilled as women without having gained any compensating male satisfactions.”
As shocking as these ideas are, will they matter – 40-plus years later – to Uber employees simply looking for a friendly, safe work environment? Some employees voiced concern back in March over Huffington’s role in the investigation when she told CNN that sexism wasn’t a “systemic problem” at Uber. She later clarified that she meant “sexual harassment,” but that didn’t satisfy some.
“Sexism versus sexual harassment — both are really demoralizing,” one Uber employee told BuzzFeed News. “Her correction doesn’t matter. Giving an interview without the investigation finishing was incredibly unprofessional and careless.”
Uber announced last week that they fired 20 employees after an internal investigation of 215 sexual harassment or misconduct complaints by staff, and Kalanick is taking an indefinite leave of absence.
As Uber’s scandals continue to publicly unfold, Huffington’s influence at the company grows while she deals with a vacuum of leadership. But is she the best person to right the ship? Can Arianna Huffington actually save Uber?
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