At Uber’s meeting to fight sexism, billionaire board member cracks a sexist joke, drawing gasps, not laughs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 8:17am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 11:41am

On Tuesday morning, as Uber Technologies Inc employees gathered in a charged company-wide meeting to discuss sweeping changes meant to curb sexism and other cultural problems at the ride-hailing giant, one of the company’s board members cracked a sexist joke in front of the room.

He later apologised.

David Bonderman, the billionaire co-founder of private equity firm TPG Capital, was addressing the room on stage with fellow Uber board member Arianna Huffington. “There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” Huffington said, according to a person who heard the exchange but was not authorised to discuss it.

Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking
David Bonderman, on the presence of women on corporate boards

“Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking,” Bonderman said. Among the Uber employees in the room, there were audible gasps and blank stares, according to another person at the meeting.

Bonderman couldn’t have picked a worse setting to interrupt a woman with a comment about how women talk. He, Huffington and other executives were addressing employees to assure them that Uber would be implementing a litany of recommendations from an independent investigation led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder. The entire process was sparked by a February blog post from former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, who detailed allegations of sexism and sexual harassment at the company. Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick said Tuesday he will take a leave of absence. Former senior vice president for business Emil Michael was ousted.

After the meeting, Bonderman apologised personally to Huffington, according to a person familiar with the matter but not authorised to speak about it. He also sent an e-mail to Uber employees via Liane Hornsey, the company’s head of human resources. “I want to apologise to my fellow board member for a disrespectful comment that was directed at her during today’s discussion,” he wrote. “It was inappropriate.”

Bonderman added that he “deeply regrets” the remark. Notably, he didn’t apologise to everyone, but instead, “to all Uber employees who were offended by the remark.” Uber and TPG declined to comment.

Bonderman, 74, founded TPG in 1992 with Jim Coulter. The two served as co-chief executive officers until Bonderman moved into a chairman role at the firm in 2014. Bonderman is also on the board of real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield Inc., Kite Pharma Inc, Ryanair Holdings Plc and almost 20 other companies.