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by Nick Winchester | July 13th, 2017 under Big Bend Blog

Uber not alles

By TOM JACOBS

The explosion of sexual harassment and firings at Uber and other Silicon Valley companies recently has grabbed the headlines. Rightly so. It appears that men in management at Uber made it clear to women that sex was expected – a quid pro quo. And when the women sought assistance within the company with this plainly unlawful situation, they were rebuffed, pushed aside, ignored, and worse.

The Uber board of directors hired a major law firm to do an investigation, and the report was damning. Heads rolled and the charismatic CEO and founder, Travis Kalanick, resigned. That’s a start.

If you’ve watched the show Silicon Valley, here’s how I imagine the Uber atmosphere. Take the show’s 20-ish men out of the house and put them in an office environment where most others are like them. The result is a workplace of generally white middle-upper-class boys-to-men, inexperienced with women, who live in a bubble. Funny, charming, intelligent, well-intentioned and more? Sure! Prone to serious boundary issues with legal implications? Oh yeah.

In fact, the character Nelson Bighetti appears designed to make fun of this very situation. Not too bright and definitely not hardworking, he ends up with a top position and wealth, along with the requisite huge house, parties, and of course, the realized fantasy of girls, girls, girls!

My knowledge of the real Silicon Valley world is limited. I worked at an East Coast dot.com-era startup twice. It was a great job and I owe the company everything, hands down. So, I hesitate to say this, but it’s the truth. There’s just no denying it had frat house tendencies. Like many of the companies in the news lately, it lacked adult supervision: at age 44, I was the oldest employee in the company. It was China’s Cultural Revolution, when party youth returned their parents by gunpoint to the country for “reeducation.” The bright, hardworking, successful, charming lunatics – many still friends today – ran the asylum.

There definitely were sexual harassment “issues.” Everyone knew about them but none were acknowledged. The recipients were afraid to complain, just as many were at Uber and still are elsewhere. I believe it when every article on the Uber situation includes people on the record quoted as saying, “This is hardly unique.”

If you had asked me when I was in college, I would have said you were crazy to think this would be an issue decades later. How naïve. At least the message is loud and clear to Uber’s peers and beyond today. And it’s a good bet that as the smoke clears, Uber will become a model employer for all employees. There will definitely be adult supervision. It’s just too bad the human cost was so great to get it.

• • • • •

Tom Jacobs is the Marfa-based fee-only Investment Advisor and Portfolio Manager of Huckleberry Capital Management, with clients of all means in 20 states and three foreign countries. You may contact him for an informal and free consultation at tom@investhuckleberry.com and 432-386-0488.

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