Uber is Trying to Fix Its Women Problem

March 12th 2015

Laura Donovan

Uber might be a very successful start-up in technology, but its growing pains -- such as sexual assaults by drivers and alleged sexism in the corporate office -- have hurt the company's reputation with women. That could explain why the company has partnered with UN Women to add 1 million female drivers to the app within the next five years.

"Uber commits to creating 1,000,000 jobs for women globally on the Uber platform by 2020," Uber wrote in a Wednesday email to users. "[H]elp ensure the UN Women’s mission of economic empowerment is heard. This important mission can only be accomplished when all women have direct access to safe and equitable earning opportunities."

On Tuesday, Uber announced the news on the company blog and posted a video to explain a little more about its plans:

This comes after months of negative Uber headlines. Last year, Senior Executive Emil Michael made news for saying he wanted to expose the dirty pasts of journalists who'd trashed his company, particularly PandoDaily Editor Sarah Lacy, a militant Uber critic. He made the comments in a private setting and issued a public apology once his remarks hit the Internet, but Uber still had a woman problem on its hands. 

Uber has been met worldwide with several sexual assault claims, which forced women to think about whether or not the app was safe for them to use. Female users have also accused drivers of kidnapping them or getting very close. With male drivers dominating the platform (14 percent of drivers are women) and sexual assault claims seemingly becoming a pattern, putting more ladies into the mix could be a way to ease the concerns of women who fear the app. Uber's General Counsel Salle Yoo told Reuters that users still won't be able to request female drivers, so you never know who you're going to get when you request a ride. It makes sense given the app's on-demand model, which means the first driver to grab a user's requests gets that particular job. The first person available may or may not be female, so more often than not, women users are paired with male drivers.

Though Uber drivers go through a background check process, there's still no guarantee of safety anytime you hop into a driver's vehicle. They might take advantage of female passengers, although regular cabbies have been accused of this as well. Uber's aim to add more lady drivers shows its listening to concerns of females, but until the app can get more sophisticated and guarantee women drivers in requests, its history of assaults and shadiness could hurt the company's long-term growth with women.