When Susan Fowler rocked Uber’s world with a meticulous account of the company’s sexual harassment and gender discrimination issues, the ride-sharing service turned to its only female board member to help clean up its culture (and its image).
Arianna Huffington was perfectly poised to position herself as the feminist savior who would advocate for Uber’s women—she oversaw the subsequent Eric Holder investigation, and promised that “no brilliant jerks will be allowed, and no one will be protected because they are top performers.” But being a powerful woman with a stake in a company, and its profits, doesn’t mean Huffington was actually the best choice to champion women struggling to make their voices heard.
Huffington’s well-documented history of fostering a toxic work culture, and failing to address inappropriate behavior from a “brilliant jerk” in her own midst, calls into question the sincerity behind her pledge to help bring positive change to Uber’s culture. Most notably, her history with a former managing editor whose “transfer” to launch HuffPost India was later revealed to be result of an HR investigation into whether he had sexually harassed multiple young women in the New York office. Gizmodo recently revisited those allegations and not only independently confirmed that the investigation was indeed the reason for that managing editor’s transfer, but that Huffington knew about his actions before they were reported to HR, according to a former employee with direct knowledge of the investigation.
Huffington’s past bears revisiting not only because of her role at Uber, but also because of the recent wave of allegations about inappropriate workplace behavior. It is important to note that oftentimes, harassers in positions of power can continue to engage in sexual misconduct without consequence due to the complicity of those in their professional sphere. And that includes women. Harvey Weinstein, for instance, had women in his inner circle that enabled his behavior. But in those cases, these women were hindered by the disproportionate power dynamics, keeping the secret of their superior at the risk of losing their job or jeopardizing their career.
But you can’t make the argument that Huffington’s job security was imperiled. She was at the top. By turning a blind eye, she bore ultimate responsibility for any issues that arose under her leadership. While she may proclaim herself a feminist, her failure to foster a safe work environment for women junior to her makes that proclamation empty and seemingly simply a tool to further her brand and her career. There is baffling hypocrisy in asserting that a healthy work environment is crucial when you have willfully ignored a toxic culture that thrived under your leadership. Huffington had the power to set an example—but she didn’t.
SOURCE: Melanie Ehrenkranz