One tiny detail at companies like SpaceX, Google, and Airbnb speaks volumes about their culture

Two weeks ago, in an act of somewhat desperate symbolism, Uber board member Arianna Huffington announced that the ride-sharing service was renaming its “War Room” the “Peace Room” as part of a broader effort to reform its tarnished image. Name swaps alone won’t help Uber recover from allegations of widespread discrimination and harassment. But the change does highlight the way that the names of conference rooms can reveal a lot about a company’s culture.

Sarah Brazaitis, an organizational psychologist and senior lecturer at Columbia’s Teachers College, says that themed conference room names are tied to the rise of open-office layouts. Both elements of office design aim to inspire collaboration, innovation, and happiness among employees.

“In contrast to cold, hierarchical, spaces where labor happens, village-like offices are designed to tie individuals closer to the organization’s identity,” says Brazaitis. “Companies that name their conference and meeting rooms according to themes are doing so to communicate their values and organizational culture to their employees, customers, clients, and all who enter.”

Much like kitchen cleanliness and desk decor, conference room names are an easy way to gauge a company’s priorities—and an opportunity to assess whether the organization is actually living up to its aspirations. To that end, we took the opportunity to compile a list of the conference-room names at leading companies in tech, media, and more—from Google and SpaceX to HBO, Yahoo, and Goldman Sachs.


Room themes: John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Johannes Kepler, Hermann Julius, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev

At the headquarters of Elon Musk’s space travel company, conference rooms honor people who have left major marks on the history of celestial exploration. “This includes famous astronauts such as John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin. It also includes scientists who have made groundbreaking discoveries in physics, most notably Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla,” says one SpaceX employee. As these SpaceX Facebook and Twitter posts reveal, each name plaque features a brief description of the innovator’s accomplishments.


Room themes: Birds (Canary, Elapaio, Dove, Raven, Mallard, Falcon, Chick, Ostrich, Thrasher, Penguin, Peacock, Seagull, Lapwing, Nightingale, Bluebird); San Francisco monuments and venues (City Lights, Grant Ave, Golden Gate, Fort Point, Crissy Field, Coastal Trail, Bill Graham, Civic Center, Jones St, The Warfield, Van Ness Ave)

Beyond representing the social media behemoth’s fun, creative spirit, according to one Twitter employee, “with the San Francisco names we want to pay homage to the city and culture that host our office, [and show] pride for our city. The birds are more of an homage to our logo and our beginnings as a company.”


Room themes: New York City (City Hall, Radio City, Great Lawn, Washington Heights, George Washington Bridge); seasons (Snowball, Sandcastle, Lemonade Stand, Oktoberfest, Winterfell); Easter eggs (“It’s here,” “It’s there”)

One floor of Google’s New York office features rooms named after city landmarks and boroughs, such as City Hall, Washington Heights, and Central Park’s Great Lawn. “The building is huge, so they try to come up with wayfinding hacks,” says one Google employee. “On my floor, rooms are organized from north to south, so if you have a meeting at ‘George Washington Bridge,’ you don’t have to look at a map, you just have to walk ‘uptown.’”

Similarly, their season-themed floor moves from winter, to spring, to summer, to fall, with room names like Snowball and Sand Castle. “Again, you can tell if you should be heading in the ‘winter’ direction if you’re room sounds cold (like ‘Winterfell’ or ‘It’s too cold’),” she says.

The general mentality behind the names is to be both fun and—in the spirit of Google’s tech—useful. Decorations—a bucket of kinetic sand in Sand Castle, a big print-out mojito recipe in Mojito, and cotton ball snowballs to throw at colleagues in Snowball—enhance the rooms’ playfulness, she reports.


Dare you to figure out all the themes.

Room themes: Bay Area neighborhoods (Alamo Square, Corona Heights, Golden Gate, Glen Canyon, Twin Peaks) and coffee joints (Blue Bottle, Flywheel, Andytown, Capricorn); floor 6: SF bars (Elixer, Horshoe Tavern, Dogpatch, Bustop Saloon); San Francisco writers (Ginsberg, Castenada, Brown, Kerouac, Keysey); San Francisco events (Bay to Breakers, Cherry Blossom, How Weird, Jazz Festival, Pillow Fight, SantaCon, Sketchfest); Video games (Alcatraz: Prison Escape, Blur, Call of Duty: AW, Defiance, Godzilla: Unleashed, Tony Hawk’s pro skater)

LinkedIn’s 17-floor building, originally designed by Tishman Sperry, has numerous themed floors honoring San Francisco, the city where its headquarters is based. While alphabetically ordered, the unique names can be overwhelming and hard to keep track of, says one employee.


Room themes: Portici, Italy; Smiths Lake, New South Wales; Mexican Log Cabin; Brooklyn; Shanghai; Rio; Johannesburg; Mumbai

Airbnb’s San Francisco headquarters is among the most unique offices in the world, with conference rooms and meeting spaces meticulously designed to mirror some of the site’s most impressive listings worldwide. The “culture-based listing rooms,” each named after the real-life listing’s city, “showcase Airbnb’s global expansion,” according to IDF Studio, the design company behind Airbnb’s office. (Photos of the “Portici, Italy” room, adorned with a moulded ceiling, chandelier, and Roman marble bust, along with the Mexican-style log cabin and Mumbai coffee shop can be viewed here.)


For such a creative company, one would think their room names are more unique than numbers (4-003, 4-001, 5-49)—but, as an HBO employee reports, they aren’t.


Room themes: Food (Empanada, Cold Brew, Waffle Fries, Grilled Cheese); Classic toys (Game Boy, Moon Shoes, Blockbuster, Koosh Ball); Celebrities (Jennifer Lawrence, Ryan Gosling, Amy Poehler, Bill Murray); Emojis (❤️ 💩 😉 😍); New York City (Statue of Liberty, streets where the company previously had offices)

“BuzzFeed is loud—it’s not subtle,” Chris Rushing, the company’s senior art director, told Fast Company in an article about their zany, colorful new NYC office. In addition to each floor’s uniquely-themed meeting room names, a BuzzFeed employee says its large conference rooms have massive wall decals—like OOO, SFW, NSFW, LOL, ROFL, TY, and TTYL—all of which are removable, so they can be replaced with next gen’s abbrevs.

Food Network

Room themes: Fruit (Kiwi, Apple, Strawberry, Banana)

Meeting rooms are named after fruit in the digital division of Food Network’s NYC office. “Food Network is all about accessibility to the average American,” says a former employee. “They really focus on the building blocks of food, so rather than naming the rooms after crazy dishes, they went with stable fruits.”


Room themes: Washington, DC, and American politics (K Street, New Deal, Filibuster, Recess, State of the Union)

It’s no surprise that the DC-based political news outlet has room names related to American history, Congressional procedures, and other traditions of life in the capitol.


Room themes: TV shows (All in the Family, Brooklyn 99, 30 Rock, Gossip Girl, SNL, NYPD Blue, Mad Men, Project Runway, Seinfeld, Sopranos, Weekend Update, The Daily Show); Plays (Rock of Ages, West Side Story, Wicked, Avenue Q); and Movies (American Hustle, Black Swan, Do The Right Thing, Saturday Night Fever, Devil Wears Prada, Great Gatsby, Wall Street, Watchmen)

The media giant names its rooms after TV shows, movies, and plays based and/or produced in NYC, their headquarters’ home city.

New York Times

The global news organization isn’t devoting a lot of creative resources to its conference room names, says a former employee. “The [NYC] board room is sometimes called the ‘Churchill room,’ because there’s a bust of [former British prime minister Winston Churchill] in it… and there’s the ‘Page One room,’ where [the editors] used to meet to decide on what stories go on page one,” he explains. Otherwise, conference rooms are labeled with plain old numbers and letters.


Room themes: Nature

The world’s leading tech-product review site has a fittingly logical room-naming system. The lower level is named after minerals, the ground floor after plants, the second floor after trees, the third floor after weather formations, the fourth floor after stars, and the fifth floor after galaxies. “Get it, bottom up? Very helpful for knowing which floor you should go to based on the name alone,” says a former employee.


Room themes: Subterranean Earth (Magma); Ground-level Earth (sequoia, river); Sky (Lightning, Storm, Rain, Sunset); Space (Stars, Sun)

Similar to CNET, the San Francisco office of CBS employs science-oriented logic when it comes to naming rooms, with floors themes ascending from subterranean Earth (floor 1) to space (floor 4).


Room themes: Celebrities (Beyonce, Kate Moss)

Glossier, the multi-million dollar millennial makeup company, names its NYC office rooms after famous beauty icons, including Beyonce and Kate Moss.


Room themes: Coffee (Espresso, Cortado); Eggs (Scrambled, Sunnyside)

Casper names all its rooms after breakfast foods (coffee, eggs, and a big conference room named “Continental”). The online mattress company notably identifies as a lifestyle brand, with marketing that playfully depicts at hitting the snooze button, brunching, and staying in bed. Thus, the room names are in keeping with its goal of being more than a simple furniture company, according to one employee. “But they also demonstrate a playfulness both in terms of our company image and the work culture,” she says. “There’s something hilarious about scheduling a meeting with my boss in a room called ‘Pancakes,’ and that definitely is consistent with a very laid-back office culture.”

The leading US sexual health care nonprofit

Room names: Morning After, Happy Endings, Sexual Fantasy

While the notable organization chose to remain anonymous, their room names were too delightful to pass up.

Fullstack Academy

Room themes: Coding languages (JavaScript, C++, Ruby); Famous programers and computer pioneers (Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Alan Turing)

The coding bootcamp, with locations in New York City and Chicago, aims to prepare students for careers in software development. “The ABCs of our school is Always Be Coding, so having our rooms named after coding languages helps refocus students to that effect,” explains one employee. “I love that we have rooms named after famous pioneering women in programming because it reminds me that we’re striving to bridge the gender gap in the tech world,” she says. “We have a program for all women that has a deferred tuition option so women don’t pay until they get a job.”

Goldman Sachs

Room themes: Numbers

The top-tier investment firm sticks with the classic numbered system, but one employee says it’s possible to read more into it. “It makes sense because that’s what we want to be,” she says. “Making numbers — $$$.” Their competition, Bank of America, takes a slightly more creative approach, naming executive floor rooms after cities, and some meeting rooms after New York City parks.

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This simple switch in technique could save tense negotiations like Brexit

The road to Britain’s exit from the EU has been rocky. UK prime minister Theresa May has adopted a hard stance, repeatedly claiming that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” and threatening to walk away if she doesn’t get what she wants (now that negotiations have officially started, she’s started making offers.) The EU, for its part, has fixed the timetable of the negotiations around a three-step plan (paywall) and dismissed any attempt by the UK to cherry-pick the conditions of the deal.

In the world of business, this style of negotiation is called “positional bargaining.” It centers on each side taking fixed positions during deal-making. But the result is almost always a trade-off that leaves people dissatisfied. A simple switch in strategy could change that dynamic, according to William Ury, co-founder of Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation, and Roger Fisher, the Program’s former director. They advise focusing instead on preparing for talks and conducting them in a way that finds an outcome that works for all. This strategy, called ‘principled bargaining,’ is outlined in their book Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In, originally published in 1981, and revised in 2012.

This principle follows four key points:

“Separate the people from the problem”

Focusing too heavily on the individual leaves negotiations vulnerable to egos and emotions. Time would be better spent thinking about to work together towards a common goal, Ury and Fisher write.

The Brexit team is not short on personality. May made a ‘hard’ Brexit seem like the only option. After her snap election flop, this is no longer the case. Negotiators should move from seeing the negotiations as an outcome driven by May, or by one member of a much larger bloc, to one driven by diverse governments responding to various demands.

“Focus on interests, not positions”

Focusing on positions often overlooks what people really want. Instead, the negotiators should look at the underlying reasons driving those decisions, which can promote understanding and compromise.

Despite their disagreements, EU members are united by a need to represent the interests of the individuals in their countries. Cambridge University law lecturer Felix Steffek argues that this is where Brexit efforts should be concentrated —not among states. May is acting as an agent on behalf of the people while also contending with her own thoughts, and those of her party, on how Brexit should be tackled. The interests of all citizens within the EU and the UK should instead drive discussions.

“Invent options for mutual gain”

Fixed positions treat the world as black and white, and it’s anything but. Creative thinking outside the formal negotiation process produces better results.

Professor Lawrence Susskind, co-author of Negotiating on Behalf of Others, argues that the best way to deal with two opposing point of views is to brainstorm ideas. The opt-in, opt-out models of Norway and Switzerland, in which both countries remain non-EU members but still retain ties to the bloc through membership to the European Economic Area (Norway) or European Free Trade Association (both), should act as a springboard to spur ideas on the possibilities available. Susskind says the time is ripe for “exploration of a wide range of options and strategies” which could involve “multiple teams working jointly to generate good ideas on key issues, rather than a final agreement.”

“Insist on using objective criteria”

Moving away from what people are willing or unwilling to do and deferring to a fair standard that all agree on can help keep negotiations on track.

A mediator can help establish that standard during difficult discussions. The UK seems open to outside help: reaching out to the negotiation don himself, William Ury, for advice. It also just hired former New Zealand minister Crawford Falconer as its chief negotiations adviser. Falconer’s separation from European politics and expertise in global trade (he has also worked for the OECD) will hopefully allow him to offer fair and insightful judgments. Settling on what both sides consider crucial to future prosperity, like trade and the economy, will produce a result that is most pleasing to all.

A little flattery doesn’t hurt

Before and during negotiations, Ury and Fisher recommend appealing to your opposing side with gestures that acknowledge their humanity. Benjamin Franklin liked to flatter his adversaries by asking to borrow a certain book. That way, they felt like Franklin owed them. The Brexit team seem to be taking note. On Monday, Brexit talks in Brussels kicked off with the UK’s secretary of state for Brexit, David Davis, bringing a signed first edition copy (paywall) of the mountaineering classic Regards vers Annapurn. The EU’s chief negotiatior Michel Barnier, meanwhile, presented a walking stick from his home region of Savoie. Both men enjoy walking, you see.

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Productivity hacks are built for bros

A google employee rides a scooter through Google's NY office

In our work-obsessed culture, productivity “hacks” are like a virtual currency. The internet is rife with shortcuts to help you crush it like a pro, climb the ladder, network like no one’s watching. They’re made for “doers” and self-professed “extremely busy people.

A hack might involve a stopwatch, an app, or a new habit, like “batching” similar tasks, but the point is always to get more—and more, and more—done in less time.

These hacks aren’t as innocent as they seem. Productivity hacks can also be read as cultural signposts, reminders that the clock is ticking, your output is being measured (as employees’ every move becomes increasingly quantifiable), and you’re now expected to work all the time, from anywhere. The embedded message: If you just do your work, without optimizing your operations and maximizing efficiency, you’ll be left behind as your peers advance.

And hacks prop up the myth of the meritocracy. The promise that makes them so attractive is that you can tweak your way to the top, if you just employ enough micro-strategies—except we know that simply isn’t true.

But the most irksome problem with productivity hacks: they represent cultural ideals about work that are decidedly masculine. (To be clear, I mean the social construct of masculinity that young boys begin absorbing at preschool levels, when studies show that fathers are more likely speak to them using words about achievement, like “win” and “proud.”)

This makes sense when you consider that, like gamified dating apps and other customs that have infiltrated our lives, the hacks grew out of the culture of “tech bros,” the usually young, wealthy men who work in the tech industry, worship tech’s founder heroes, and mix frat boy brutishness with a nerdy dedication to “ideating” for their startup. Hacks reflect the creeping of tech bros’ work hard, play hard ethos into most other industries, and they naturally perpetuate beliefs about the ideal employee that give higher value to masculine traits, defined in one study on gender in the IT field as: careerism, competitiveness, aggression, individualism, and self-sufficiency.

Many hacks aim to cultivate just those traits while limiting or banishing the kind of “soft” skills — empathy and collectivism—that are associated with women. For instance, the “network while you eat” hack allows a person to eat (if not avoiding the “friction” of needing to go find sustenance altogether by chugging a Soylent at one’s desk) while tending to a careerist goal. Others might see the daily lunch break as a precious window of unstructured time, or a chance to read a book or check in with friends or family.

Even when the hack recommends “unplugging,” or sleeping more, it’s strategic: Forced downtime in the service of ultra-performance when you’re back “on.” Food and vacations are recommended as tools to help you get stuff done. In an interview about productivity tips last year, GQ magazine asked Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, about the single tool that has most helped him to succeed. His answer:

“I feel like I stumbled into this solution. I met my wife in college. And marrying someone who is temperamentally different than me, and deciding early on that I needed one person in my life whom I would be completely honest with and she would tell me when I was full of shit or being an asshole—that, I think, is the most important thing.

Granted, this is not the sexism of the 1950s—where the wife’s role was to always support the husband’s career goals—but when a spouse can be named a top “tool” for success, we’ve probably reached peak productivity hack.

As it happens, we’re in the middle of a dark moment for today’s tech culture, as the implicit biases against women in the field become explicit and exposed. Stanford University’s Cecilia Ridgeway, a professor of social psychology and sociology of gender, has theorized about the mechanisms that allow gender inequality to persist despite societal counter winds, including laws that protect women at work, and rhetoric about diversity and flextime. She found that background gender frames influence behavior within companies, regardless of their organizational structure.

In a public lecture about her book, Framed By Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World, Ridgeway explained that startups in both the life and information technology sciences typically develop relatively flat structures rather than stacked hierarchies, but in the former industry, gender is less salient and women are seen as more competent. The IT sciences, on the other hand, are still strongly sex-typed in favor of men, she said, so “stronger implicit biases make it harder for women to take advantage of the flexible structure.”

One reason tech culture has a particular problem with gender may be related to its toxic habit of mythologizing genius. In 2015, a team of researchers led by Princeton University philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie, found that women are “underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success, because women are stereotyped as not possessing such talent.” Productivity hacks, one could argue, are a symptom of our new but still unequal era.

To be fair, hacks can be clever and useful, like the Pomodoro Technique, and some can probably help a person—of any gender—make more sense of their lives, as the Personal Kanban method promises. But the vast majority of these hacks seem to speak to a culture that defines success by career achievement and makes dedication to work the ultimate virtue.

The traits and concerns we prize should be wider than that.

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In the name of all that is holy, please don’t let Sheryl Sandberg become the next CEO of Uber

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg speaks at the American Enterprise Institute, Wednesday, June 22, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

If anyone in this world deserves to be a CEO somewhere, it’s Facebook chief operating officer and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg.

And if there’s one place that needs someone like Sandberg in the CEO job, it’s Uber. Big, bold, and troubled to a fault, it’s desperate for leadership, diversity, and the business skills needed to keep it ahead of the curve while it aims to repair its image as a deeply sexist workplace.

But Sandberg leading Uber would be the worst sort of leaning in. Why? Because women in CEO roles start at a disadvantage when they are brought in as nurses to rush to the aid of a sickly culture, or as babysitters meant to buttress a male founder who acts like an overgrown child.

Companies that do this can claim to have broken the glass ceiling, but that’s not the only mess the new female CEO will need to sweep up. As she works to get her new company back on track, she will be all the while marching right up to the edge of the proverbial glass cliff, until she is thrown over by an impatient board or by frustrated investors who don’t understand why she failed in her role.

It’s true that it’s not only women who get recruited for big turnaround jobs. If that were the case, there would be far more women running big companies today. But studies have shown that when the going gets tough, we are more inclined to seek a female savior than a male one—although strangely this only tends to hold true when the tough times occur under male leadership.

Women, meanwhile, are frequently more inclined to want to clean up messes—or at least are more inclined to be willing to do so.

There’s a fabulous passage in Mika Brzezinski’s book Knowing Your Value in which Elizabeth Warren, then overseeing the creation of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and now a US senator, talks about a strange realization she had while serving as an associate dean at the University of Houston. It came over her when she had to find an instructor for the worst course at the worst time in the worst location—an assignment she that she had reluctantly volunteered to take on in previous years when she’d been asked to fill it. Here’s what she found when it was her turn to find an instructor for it:

Warren says, “Every single woman could be leveraged into teaching the lousy course at the lousy time in the lousy room. Men would just say, ‘No. That’s not convenient for me.’ I thought, ‘This is astonishing!’”

I ask Warren, “It never crossed your mind to say no?”

“Never,” Warren says.


“Partly I felt lucky to be there; partly, I’m the cooperator, you know, let’s get the job done. Someone needs to do this. Someone needs to mop the floor. Okay, hand me the mop.”

Asked to mop up a mess as big as Uber is, a lot of women might feel lucky for the opportunity, especially considering that only 6% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are female.

There would be plenty of other reasons to take on the job, some of which could yield big gains for women in the realm of business. Female executives are frequently criticized for lacking “the vision thing,” and Uber, for all its faults, remains an extremely visionary company. Succeeding here would help put to rest the persistent stereotype that women are better doers than thinkers. And if a company as big as Uber, in a sector as culturally influential as Silicon Valley, were to thrive under a female CEO who perhaps could find a way to build a better workplace for women (or even better, women and men), the corporate world as a whole would be much better off.

For Sandberg specifically, the top job at Uber would be nice recognition of the work she has put in as Mark Zuckerberg’s number two at Facebook. The pay would no doubt be great.

But as much as I’d hate to see a woman turn down a vacant CEO job at an important company in the global economy, I hope Sandberg holds out for something better—perhaps Disney, which is drawing up plans for an orderly CEO succession while its business is on an upswing. Or maybe Sandberg will someday start a company of her own.

It’s no surprise to hear that Uber wants her now. But the investors and board members who kept enabling Kalanick after his behavior overshadowed his brilliance might never have tolerated so much corporate rot if they were certain there wouldn’t be a woman around later on to clean up the mess.

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Jeremy WebbIn the name of all that is holy, please don’t let Sheryl Sandberg become the next CEO of Uber
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Even unicorns need a moral compass: Uber and the ultimate toxicity of sexism

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Evidence grows that sexism stands as the gateway drug to the worst of corporate behavior, with Uber and its recently departed chief Travis Kalanick just the most recent egregious example. If the CEO can’t understand that an employee outing to a karaoke bar that also features escort services is a bad idea, who knows else what he might attempt? Now we do.

When a former Uber engineer told the world about the routine sexual harassment she faced, Kalanick called the details “abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for.” Not true, then or now, it turns out. The ruthless approach to conquering international markets—and any plausible competitor—translated to a workplace where women were regularly demeaned.

That’s the problem with corporate cultures that celebrate winning at all costs. It becomes increasingly difficult to tell where the playing field ends and the “locker room” begins.

At Fox News, Roger Ailes unashamedly counted among his cable-TV commandments that blonde newsreaders are best, and most optimally viewed when their bare legs are visible through the glass desks he demanded for the set. The ensuing accusations of his sexually degraded underlings—a scandal that would engulf Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, his most prized on-air acolyte—astonished no one.

Sexism has been an ever-thus presence in the workplace, surviving despite the championing—with accompanying legal protections—of equal opportunity. There somehow remains plenty of room for “the paternalistic metaphor of the corporate family” that subjugates women, as Melissa Gregg put it for The Atlantic:

Unhappy workplaces feature all of the worst aspects of intimate relationships: They are needy (long hours), they punish by withholding love (promotions), they require obligatory felicities (email at any hour) and compulsory socializing (networking drinks).

As stiflingly workaday as all of that sounds for anyone in 2017, the grind for women who adapt their own identities to fit into male-dominated arenas is additionally nightmarish. Last week, Sarah Stockdale’s blistering Medium account, “The myth of the ‘cool tech girl’: And why she’s dangerous,” explained how insidious the idea of the “cool tech girl” is—”a toxic myth, she helps men feel safe in their sexism,” she notes. It was a coincidentally well-timed piece of writing:

When the news broke about (I roll my eyes as I write this) an Uber board member making a sexist comment about women on boards at a town hall about sexism at Uber (facepalm) — I saw men write in comment threads “he probably thought it was OK, he’s probably friends with Arianna [Huffington] and thought he could be funny, it was just a joke.”

Read: he thought ya’ll were cool girls and you’d be cool about it.

Kalanick scrambled to boot that board member, David Bonderman, according to a New York Times account of his final days as CEO. But that was too little, too late, as became clear in a final-hours chat with Huffington, another board member.

Uber’s investors did what they had to with Kalanick. Still, shakeups attack only a symptom, not the disease. The damage of sexism at Uber may be under some control now. The factors that allowed it to thrive there—and in workplaces around the world— won’t be so easily undone.

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Jeremy WebbEven unicorns need a moral compass: Uber and the ultimate toxicity of sexism
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History has paved a path for CEOs to return and it’s not one for Travis Kalanick

Boards have a penchant for bringing back ousted company founders: “boomerang bosses” is a well-worn phrase. So can we expect the same to happen to Travis Kalanick at Uber?

Perhaps the best way to start answering that question is to dig into what happened with Steve Jobs, the Apple leader who is probably the best-known example of a fired founder making a monumental comeback.

Kalanick certainly has the reckless, upstart, law-defying mentality many saw in Jobs. And while the specifics are different—Kalanick has suffered seemingly irreparable public relations damage with Uber, while at Apple in the 1980s Jobs was facing a politics and a power struggle at the top of the company—both were ousted for similar reasons. Both men revelled in rebellion at the start of their careers and didn’t manage to make the transition from fired up go-getter to sensible decision-maker at the pace required by a rapidly growing company.

Jobs left Apple in 1985, only to return over a decade later. It is striking that Jobs’ reappointment as Apple’s CEO came in 1997, a year after the company gobbled up NeXT, the software company Jobs had been working on in the interim. Clearly, the company craved creativity and saw it in their former boss. When Jobs was ushered back to the help, Apple had been operating at a loss just as its biggest competitor, Microsoft, was seeing revenues grow due to the introduction of the Windows 95 operating system.

The Jobs-Apple trajectory is a typical story. Most founders are only asked to return to chief executive roles when their darling is starting to rot and their industry’s playing field is changing. Infosys brought back its co-founder Narayana Murthy in 2013, desperate to inject some life back into an ailing company that had plenty of cash but dismal growth rates. In May this year, Biz Stone announced he would be rejoining Twitter, along with co-founder Jack Dorsey, amid long-running losses at the company. Jerry Wang, co-founder of Yahoo, who from the birth of the company in 1995 steered clear of getting involved in strategy and stuck to “creating good ideas” under the honorary title of “Chief Yahoo,” found himself roped into taking over as CEO in 2007 after a series of mishaps from his predecessor Terry Semel and amid growing competition from Google.

The “founder mentality” is something investors obviously find alluring—but only, it seems, at certain times in the company’s growth. Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at Wharton Business School, puts it down to organizations needing different skills at different times. The entrepreneurial zeal of a founder is great at a company’s start, but often isn’t enough to take a company through its next stage of growth, where stronger management is required. But then they can come to symbolize an energy and openness to innovation that the company may need to spur and sell new ideas further down the line. The founders seem to enjoy it too: speaking of his experience returning to Apple at a Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005, Jobs noted that, “the heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again.”

All that suggests there’s a chance Kalanick does return to Uber—when, down the line, the company becomes a stale elder statesmen in the tech world.

On the other hand, the problem with Kalanick is that any vision he did have has been overshadowed by the macho and misogynistic culture that pervaded all aspects of the company and which Uber is now desperately trying to shake off. Principles that should drive a company forward, and that are central to the ethos of the workplace, have at Uber been decidedly lacking: Kalanick himself struggled to finish describing them in an interview with FastCompany in 2015. He may have created one of the most disruptive companies of the 21st century, but it seems unlikely that the power and energy which Kalanick could offer if he did return would be enough for a company that’s faced such public relations nightmares. Apple could see beyond Jobs’ dictatorial streak because his attitude, though at times difficult, came from the right place: it’s hard to see the same being true of Kalanick.

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Jeremy WebbHistory has paved a path for CEOs to return and it’s not one for Travis Kalanick
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The downfall of Uber’s Travis Kalanick started with a single blog post

Susan Fowler's Feb. 17 blog post

There’s almost no way Susan Fowler could have expected her Feb. 19 blog post describing the rampant sexism at Uber to lead to the departure of CEO Travis Kalanick.

But she may have hoped it would.

Fowler described, with precise and revealing detail, her experiences of sexual harassment and the culture that allowed it to fester. Her credibility in the tech world—she’s the author of some incredibly wonky engineering books—gave her voice authority, and her post was read by Kalanick. He took it seriously enough that the company soon commissioned an investigation, led by former US attorney general Eric Holder, into her allegations.

Uber already had a reputation for its aggressive, rules-flouting behavior, but all that followed—Kalanick berating a driver, revelations of trips to Korean escort bars, the purging of employees connected to allegations of harassment, and other suspect activities—bolstered Fowler’s account, and drove the narrative that something was deeply and seriously wrong at Uber.

To be clear, the sexist climate at Uber was only one of the factors that contributed to Kalanick’s ouster. There’s also the damaging lawsuit over intellectual property, revelations about using software (paywall) to evade law enforcement, and a #deleteUber movement that cost the company an estimated 200,000 users emerged after Kalanick was invited to join US president Donald Trump’s economic advisory council.

It says something about Kalanick’s influence over Uber’s board and investors that he held on as long as he did. It also means that despite the repulsiveness of the company’s culture, and the power of Fowler’s account, it probably alone wasn’t enough to force him out.

That should be sobering for anyone celebrating Kalanick’s departure as a turning point in how the business world deals with sexist behavior. High-profile incidents at Uber and Fox News (and smaller-scale ones like at Thinx) are extreme examples, where investors and boards were all but forced to take action, and only after lengthy and very public airings of the allegations. But harassment occurs at all sorts of workplaces, with as many as 85% of women experiencing some form of it, according to a 2015 study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And it should be noted that Fowler wrote her post after leaving Uber—she didn’t risk her job.

Fowler’s post was a catalyst due to Uber’s unique circumstances, but it shows that raising a voice can make a difference, and change is possible. There’s a growing intolerance in mainstream culture for sexism and misbehavior, and once it sticks to a company’s reputation, it’s bad for business.

Theres no other company quite like Uber, and Fowler’s post may ensure that stays true.

Read this next: 12 things employers can do to improve gender equality at their workplace

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Jeremy WebbThe downfall of Uber’s Travis Kalanick started with a single blog post
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What’s next for Travis Kalanick?

Is there a second act for fired Uber CEO Travis Kalanick?

As resumes go, Travis Kalanick’s is pretty impressive:

  • Serial entrepreneur, launching three startups before turning 35
  • Co-founder of a privately held company valued at as much as $70 billion
  • Instrumental in creation of the ride-sharing industry, which has expanded across the globe in less than a decade
  • Invited to serve on presidential economic advisory council
  • Reputation for hard work, drive, “hustle”

For anyone else, that record of success would mean near-limitless opportunities. But Kalanick’s very real accomplishments are only half his story, and it’s the other half—his tenure as Uber’s CEO, presiding over a rule-breaking culture tolerant of sexual harassment—that makes his future much more murky.

Without that stain, it would be easy to see Kalanick taking a senior position at an established car manufacturer like Ford or GM that’s looking to find their way in a future of shared and driverless vehicles. Or perhaps a major tech player like Google or Amazon would want him to lead their forays into the space. Any corporation would have to swallow hard before hiring him, though, knowing his baggage, and the scorn they would receive from investors and customers.

There’s a history of executives rebounding from humiliating exits to rise again. Perhaps the most famous is Steve Jobs, who, like Kalanick, was ousted from the company he founded, only to return and take it to even greater heights. The record of others is more checkered. Jack Dorsey was fired from Twitter, only to be re-hired. Bob Nardelli was booted from Home Depot, given the top job at Chrysler, where he failed again.

Most fired CEOs, particularly those who leave under the cloud of scandal, don’t make it back to the C-suite. The more conventional path is to take on an advisory position at a hedge fund or private-equity firm, sit on some boards, and fade into a comfortable semi-retirement.

It’s hard to see Kalanick—just 40—disappearing like that, even after his personal and professional setbacks. A more likely scenario would be for him to launch yet another startup. Venture capitalists have a high appetite for risk—and with no public shareholders to answer to—one or more might be willing to bet on Kalanick and his track record, while putting in place the management structures to make sure he stays on the rails. And given his pugnacious attitude, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if his new venture was a ride-share company, aimed at taking on Uber.

Read next: Steve Jobs’s worst decision was promoting Tim Cook

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Jeremy WebbWhat’s next for Travis Kalanick?
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The fate of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was sealed in March

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick attends the summer World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China, June 26, 2016.

Just a few months ago, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick “absolutely” had the full confidence of Uber’s board, according to director Arianna Huffington. Yesterday (June 20), he was forced out of the $70 billion company he founded, pressured by investors who found his leadership lacking.

Uber had numerous issues related to Kalanick’s leadership, including a sexist culture that resulted in allegations of harassment, a ruthless approach to expansion and labor relations that drew the ire of regulators and taxi unions globally, and the poaching of a former Google executive that led to a lawsuit from Alphabet over allegedly stolen technology.

All those issues—and more—led to a slowing of business and put the company’s prospects for an initial public offering in jeopardy. Investors, including Benchmark,​ Menlo Ventures, Lowercase Capital, First Round Capital, and Fidelity Investments had had enough and decided to push Kalanick out, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall). Kalanick, 40 years old, had already opted to take an indefinite leave to mourn the sudden death of his mother in a boating accident that also critically injured his father on Pine Flat Lake in California in late May.

But the first public sign that Kalanick was on his way out came in March, with that “full confidence” remark. Historically, whenever a CEO, or a board—or your own boss—says publicly that they have full confidence in an executive, that marks them for firing, executive coaches and recruiters have long observed.

In June of 2011, Yahoo’s board stated they had “full confidence” in Carol Bartz as CEO. In September, she was fired over the phone by Yahoo’s chairman, Roy Rostock, one of the company’s co-founders. On July 25, 2010, BP publicly stated that Tony Hayward, the CEO famous for running the company during the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill, “has the full support of the board,” only to announce the next day that US BP chief Bob Dudley would take over; Hayward had been still negotiating his severance package.

Even in government, such statements read as career death knells. On Feb. 13 this year, Trump surrogate Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC that then-national security advisor Michael Flynn enjoyed the “full confidence of the president.” Flynn was toast the next day. Whenever a boss says, ” ‘You have my full confidence,’ I often advise the person to update their resume,” Dee Soder, managing partner of the CEO Perspective Group in New York, which advises top executives, told Quartz. Such statements are often made publicly by sports team owners about losing coaches, says Randi Melnick, an employment lawyer in New York. “Those are red flags,” she says. “One more losing season and the coach does not have their confidence any more.”

For Kalanick, Huffington’s full-confidence statement was followed by a devastating report from an outside legal firm documenting numerous problems with the company’s ethics, culture, and business practices. And with that, the last whiff of investors’ confidence evaporated.

Read next: When your boss asks if you want to stay in your job, he’s saying, “You’re fired!”

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Jeremy WebbThe fate of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was sealed in March
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A former executive is accusing Infosys of racism that favours Indians

Infosys Chief Executive Vishal Sikka attends a news conference in Mumbai

A former senior executive at Infosys has accused Indian software major Infosys of a racist bias that favours Indian techies over others.

Erin Green, who worked at Infosys’s Texas office from October 2011 to July 2016, has alleged that his former employer tilted the scales too far towards Indians in its 200,000-strong workforce in the US. In a lawsuit filed (paywall) with the district court in eastern Texas on June 19, Green cites the lack of diversity at the firm as proof of discrimination:

While roughly 1% of the US population is of the South Asian race and national origin, roughly 93%-94% of Infosys’s United States workforce is of the South Asian national origin (primarily Indian). This disproportionately South Asian and Indian workforce, by race and national origin, is a result of Infosys’s intentional employment discrimination against individuals who are not South Asian, including discrimination in the hiring, promotion, compensation, and termination of individuals.

In 2013, India’s second-largest IT firm took a $34 million hit—the largest ever payment in a visa case—after a Texas court found the behemoth guilty of “systemic visa fraud and abuse.”

Although Green doesn’t explicitly address the potential misuse of visas at Infosys, he suggests that the predominance of Indians is not simply a product of meritocracy. Green, the former global head of immigration who has previously spoken out about the detrimental effect of curbing H-1B visas on the US tech sector, is accusing Infosys of using the very same work visas to replace or supplant non-south Asians at the company. Green has called for a trial by jury.

Blinded by colour

Apparently, trouble began after Green’s transfer to the global immigration team led by Vasudeva Nayak in 2013. In his complaint, Green makes serious allegations against the supervisor of stripping him of his responsibilities and passing on immigration- and compliance-related roles to “less experienced, lower level South Asian employees in India…or peer level South Asian managers in India who were consistently added to the US team with no prior US immigration experience.”

Since then, the lawsuit claims, “…Plaintiff (Green) was not promoted, and no white or black employees on Plaintiff’s teams were ever promoted, progressed, or given salary increases.” Only the careers of south Asians progressed. Binod Hampapur, whom Nayak reported to, is also called out in the complaint for not curbing the discrimination.

In March 2015, Green filed an internal discrimination complaint to no avail. Instead, in August 2015, Nayak gave Green his lowest performance rating during his four-year tenure at Infosys—a sign of retaliation by the senior management in Green’s view.

He escalated the matter in September 2015, filing an internal complaint with Infosys’s employee relations team. Even after a nearly year-long probe, there was no resolution. Green’s employment was terminated on the grounds that he used “his work computer for personal use a number of years earlier.” However, Green believes his firing had more to do with the company’s “obsessional preference for employees of South Asian race and national origin, usually Indian, and as retaliation for reporting Nayak and Hampapur’s discriminatory treatment of himself and others on the basis of race and national origin.”

Infosys declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

Balancing act

The numbers do show the outsized presence of Indians. Of all nationalities, Indians were the recipients of the highest number (pdf) of US H-1B employment visas in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, they captured 72% of H-1B visas issued.

Although each of these hires may be a deserving candidate, experts have warned against the “halo effect,” the tendency to hire someone with a background and credentials that mirror the hiring officer’s or existing team members’ records.

A number of companies in the US have come under fire for opting for cheaper Indian talent over equally qualified locals in a bid to cut costs. Earlier this year, Larry Ellison’s $160 billion California-based software giant Oracle was sued (pdf) by the US department of labor for wage violations and hiring bias “against qualified white, Hispanic, and African-American applicants in favor of Asian applicants, particularly Asian Indians.” In 2015, a former Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) employee accused the company of “anti-American sentiment” and south Asian bias in its hiring practices. Several Quora users have also attested to cronyism among Indian employees at big name companies like Cisco, Qualcomm, Microsoft, HCL, Tech Mahindra, Wipro, and others.

For Infosys, the recent complaint comes at a time when its US-based CEO, Vishal Sikka, has vowed to ramp up hiring in America amid US president Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” push.

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Jeremy WebbA former executive is accusing Infosys of racism that favours Indians
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