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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 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 later 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.
Uber’s board did what it must with Kalanick. But shakeups attack a symptom, not the disease. The damage of sexism at Uber may be under control now, but the factors that allowed it to thrive won’t be so easily undone.—John Mancini
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
The botanist’s last stand. Steve Perlman of Hawaii’s Plant Extinction Prevention Program has helicoptered, hiked, and rappelled his way across the islands to catalogue their most threatened native plant species. Zoë Schlanger explores what goes into preserving biodiversity, and the toll on those charged with its survival.
Is Amazon too big? Oliver Stanley visited John D. Rockefeller’s Kykuit estate to learn about the industrial baron of the 20th century and came home thinking about Jeff Bezos. In every age, ballooning companies have caught the eye of the US government, leaving founders no less wealthy but splintering their influence. Can a modern captain of industry learn from a tycoon’s past?
The new Millennial luxe. Luxury is about the subtle conveyance of good taste, access, and wealth, Marc Bain writes. All but the most exclusive items have lost their value as class signifiers. Brands trying to connect with younger elites are instead touting their products as “organic,” “ethical,” and “sustainable.”
Your ever-shrinking social circle. “The older we get, the person we spend the most time with is the one we see in the mirror,” Corrine Purtill and Dan Kopf report in their fascinating analysis of an existential truth, courtesy of new data from US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fewer intimates can create lonelier twilight years—or more meaningful ones.
Uber would be nothing without Travis Kalanick. The deposed CEO reveled in pissing people off, writes Allison Griswold, but that’s what it took to disrupt a global industry. Politicians, drivers, customers, Tim Cook—no one was immune. And the company will forever be indebted to him.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Russian hackers are using Ukraine to practice global cyberwar. Power grids, government departments, the railway company, the port authority—all have been temporarily crippled in Ukraine in the last couple of years using methods of rapidly growing sophistication. As Andy Greenberg reports for Wired, security experts suspect these are all test runs by Russian hackers developing cyber-weapons that could take out swathes of Western infrastructure.
How tragedy begets crackdown. In an essay for Harper’s, Masha Gessen eyes the paranoid politics of the Trump era to remind “resisting” Americans that the US took its first tottering steps toward authoritarianism in the wake of 9/11. Rather than wait anxiously for the calamity of a new Reichstag fire, she advises, look long and hard at the security state, put in place by Democrats and Republicans, that has handed so much power to a president so feared.
One big risk in putting Saudis to work. Expats hold half the jobs in the kingdom, and phasing out foreign workers is a goal of the government as it diversifies beyond oil. Yet if more of its subjects earn their own livings, Bloomberg’s Dana El Baltaji and Glen Carey argue, they may very well insist on a bigger voice in the affairs of state.
The faded promise of The Guardian in America. With its much-reduced staff buffeted by leadership changes, a lost sense of mission and the vagaries of the digital-ad business, Steven Perlberg declares in BuzzFeed News that the once high-flying Guardian US is a news outlet in search of purpose, highlighting a new wrinkle in the unfolding story of media in the digital age.
The opposite of fast fashion. In central Pennsylvania, the Amish have been basically wearing the same outfit for centuries. The academic fashion journal Vestoj explores the incremental and symbolic style iterations of a people who question “change for the sake of change,” traffic in small symbols of difference, and share and reuse clothing. The wisdom the rest of us might find there extends well beyond how we dress.
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