Twilight of the Old Boys’ Club, from Uber to the Capitol


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“Old boys’ club” is more than a figure of speech. It must be an actual place on the map — one where an Uber board member named David Bonderman has apparently spent his life.

That’s the only conceivable explanation for what went down at Uber’s all-hands meeting yesterday. In the middle of this staff-wide event — called specifically to address the company’s traumatic crisis of sexual harassment and bro-culture misbehavior — Bonderman thought it was a fine idea to interrupt his fellow board member Arianna Huffington and crack a joke about how women talk too much. (Listen yourself — it’s at 6:40 on this recording at Yahoo Finance.)

Bonderman, a former corporate lawyer turned billionaire investor, quickly sent out an apology, and by evening, he announced his resignation from the Uber board (The New York Times). Earlier in the day, Uber announced that its embattled CEO, Travis Kalanick, would take a leave of absence, and Kalanick’s scrappy second-in-command, Emil Michael, was departing from the company.

Ironically, the Huffington presentation that Bonderman interrupted was all about the company’s plans to bolster its female leadership and implement other recommendations in a new report by former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder. Holder also urged Uber’s leaders to cut down on drinking at company events, ban relationships between bosses and employees who report to them, and generally start behaving like law-abiding adults. (“Holder is the dad, and Uber is the teenager,” as Alison Griswold put it in Quartz.)

But if the jaw-dropping Bonderman incident is any sign, Uber needs more than a cultural fix — it needs a head-to-toe personality transplant (Deb Gabor in Fortune). The forces women at Uber are up against are deeply entrenched, powerful, and all but invisible to the men they benefit. (No doubt Bonderman doesn’t think he’s sexist at all!) You could see the same culture at work at yesterday’s other high-profile public event — the Senate Intelligence Committee’s grilling of attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Sessions wilted under a surgically precise series of questions from California Sen. Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor who was not interested in wasting her allotted five minutes in idle chat (The Washington Post). Sen. John McCain had to step in and rescue him by interrupting Harris. (He’d done the same thing the previous week during Harris’s questioning of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.)

The senators will doubtless explain all this by blaming what they view as Harris’s failures of collegiality. If you’re not one of them, however, their treatment of Harris simply looks like reflexive intolerance for women (in this case, the Senate’s only woman of color) who talk too much and too well.

The Senate is the oldest old boy’s club in the U.S. As in the case of Uber, its biases are woven through its culture. Unraveling them won’t happen overnight, but it has to happen.

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