Uber has promised to employ a million women drivers around the world by 2020. It’s part of a new collaboration with the United Nations aimed at improving gender equality… and making Uber look good. It’s not clear how many women drivers the ride-sharing app has around the world at present, or how many cities it’ll need to advance into to reach its goal.
While initial word of mouth of the service was positive – it’s so easy to use! No more worrying about having enough cash! It’s cheaper than taxis! – Uber quickly came under fire for inflated prices at busy times. Later, and more disturbingly, the company became the centre of rape and assault charges in several cities, from Boston to Delhi, and one of its top execs was heard planning a smear campaign against journalist Sarah Lacy, for writing negative coverage of the company.
Many women have sworn off Uber altogether, but will the chance of getting a female driver bring them back? The company’s framing this as more about increasing workplace equality than personal safety: just 14% of its 160,000 American drivers are women, and there’s no option for users to select a woman driver, or plans to introduce that function, according to Uber’s lawyer Salle Yoo. Plus, of course, a woman driver doesn’t necessarily guarantee a safe ride – and drivers may also be at risk of attack.
But, if nothing else, it’s good to see women encouraged to take on a job traditionally dominated by men. Given the gender imbalance in most industries, more companies should make similar pledges to dramatically increase the number of women they hire, at all levels, whether the decision’s motivated by a desire for good PR or not.