“Wife Appreciation Day,” or a Desperate Plea for More Diversity at Uber

Uber’s recent “Wife Appreciation Day” for UberEats in Bangalore has been getting slammed by the media and is the latest in a string of rough news coming out of the company. Much like my perspective on the Bodega mess in my TechCrunch article “How startups can avoid the Bodega’s PR disaster,” I believe this is another battle cry for two things that can start to “fix” the tech community: companies need to bring communications to the table early and often, and they must including a diverse group of voices — gender, race, age, sexual orientation — throughout their business.

Uber is no doubt in a communications crisis. We don’t work with Uber or have insight into how this unfolded, but my hunch is that this campaign was launched by a fairly homogeneous team that did not consult many women and/or people who could give a perspective on how this campaign would be received in the broader context for a global brand. Uber is under immense consumer and media scrutiny. They need to be incredibly careful with their outbound marketing efforts, and make sure a global brand lens is applied to all local markets. That lens must include the perspective of women, people of color and other underrepresented groups in the tech industry.

What could Uber have done differently? Given the degree of tension surrounding their brand, I would recommend Uber create stringent policies for all external and internal communication. Uber should also make sure that a diverse group of people are consulted on the overarching brand strategy and communications plan, as well as how that plan manifests in local markets. Given their track record, I would skew to the side of caution.

The company is taking steps to fix what has been broken; for example, Uber’s new Chief Brand Ambassador posted the Tweet below in response to the tone deaf promotion:

Another peek at the “new Uber” can be seen in CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s immediate reaction to the ride sharing company losing its license in London. He made a public apology, and told the The New York Times that although he thought the decision was unfair, “the truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation…it’s critical that we act with integrity in everything we do, and learn how to be a better partner to every city we operate in.”

Entrepreneur contributor Heather Huhman wrote an article “How Uber Proved that One Person Cannot Change a Company Culture” and included some of my commentary. I agree with Huhman; bringing in new leadership will start to make a difference, but as one of my clients has said, “culture is created from the top but sustained from the bottom.” Culture is ingrained in every interaction and enforced at every touchpoint — from recruiting to on-boarding to staff meetings to internal and external communications.

This is only the beginning of a long process for Uber. As of April 2016, Uber had nearly 7,000 employees across the globe. One person cannot immediately start re-charting that course, or be present at every touchpoint. There needs to be an overarching ethos, vision and mission that is then supported and sustained by numerous people across the company. Uber has a LONG way to go, but recent responses show that it is working to change its brand, one touchpoint at a time.