Uber donates $1.2 million to Girls Who Code, but not everyone is impressed

Uber is, to put it mildly, a company with image problems. At the risk of making a horrendously unwieldy sentence, over the past few years the company has almost been banned from the iPhone, been accused of stealing driverless technology, made their drivers listen to anti-union propaganda, used software to dodge city officials, had its CEO caught on video shouting at one of his drivers and had to own up to his systemic problems with sexism. And breathe.

Uber donates $1.2 million to Girls Who Code, but not everyone is impressed

That’s actually only just scratching the surface. Under the weight of this much scandal, it was unsurprising that CEO Travis Kalanick ended up stepping down earlier this year.

Those left behind have been moving fast to pick up the pieces, trying to rebuild the company’s reputation among those who appreciate the convenience of an Uber but would prefer to keep their hands clean. Of all the accusations, it’s the sexism charge that stuck the most, which – perhaps unfairly – leaves the timing of Uber’s latest charitable donation looking more like a thinly veiled PR move than a genuine desire to help.

The company has pledged $1.2 million as a grant to Girls Who Code – a non-profit organisation with the laudable aim of reducing the horrendous gender pay gap in the technology sector. New chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John – who recently made Apple events much less fun by leaving – will be joining Girls Who Code’s board of directors as part of the partnership.

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“I’ve said it quite a bit, but I believe in representation and that it matters,” Saint John told TechCrunch. “And there’s no better time than right now to talk about women in tech and women in these very specific ladders. We obviously want more leadership and want more women in tech, so we need to make sure the pipeline is strong.”

It’s a genuinely good cause, and a generous offer, but the company’s recent history leaves the gesture feeling more than a little empty. And Uber will be more than a little irked to see that Susan J Fowler – the former Uber engineer whose explosive blog post exposed the company’s sexism issues – was among those undermining its effectiveness at restoring Uber’s image.

It comes back to that old philosophical quandary: if someone does the right thing for the wrong reasons, should you be happy? That depends on who you ask: for Uber’s shareholders, the answer right now is “probably not”.

Still: at least they’re doing alright with millennials.

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