Backlash results after Uber teams up with Girls Who Code

Timeline: Uber's management crisis
Timeline: Uber's management crisis

Uber pledged $1.2 million to Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that provides free coding classes to grade school and high school girls. As part of the multi-year partnership announced Thursday, Uber's new chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John is joining the organization's board.

The news didn't sit well with everyone -- including those who run nonprofits that also push to get more women and girls into technical careers.

"What's the point of offering women avenues to learn web/software skills if we're going to then lead them astray by recommending they work at a company that actively harms them?" asked Corinne Warnshuis, executive director of nonprofit Girl Develop It, in a series of tweets. "That's the worst outcome."

Uber has yet to prove itself a welcoming place for women. In February, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a lengthy blog post that forced the startup to address its toxic work culture and systemic sexism. The $68 billion transportation startup then launched a months-long internal investigation into its workforce culture. They ultimately purged a number of top executives, including CEO Travis Kalanick.

The investigation and subsequent coverage had a chilling effect on Uber partnerships.

In May, the Anita Borg Institute -- the organization behind the annual Grace Hopper Conference, the largest gathering of women in computing that takes place every fall -- cut ties with Uber.

"We require our partners to take action to improve the retention and advancement of women technologists," CEO Telle Whitney told CNN Tech at the time

Girl Develop It's Warnshius told CNN Tech that it's very difficult for a nonprofit that gives women access to affordable tech classes to accept largesse from a company with a bad reputation. It's also hard to turn it down, but they've said no a few times to donations from other tech companies struggling to fix their reputations.

"We operate as a very lean nonprofit and although our program model is sustainable ... we can always use additional support to grow our programs and increase our impact," Warnshius said.

In response to Warnshius, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant tweeted that her organization also turned down money. She added that it was a fraction of amount Uber is donating to Girls Who Code. Bryant did not immediately respond to request for further comment.

"We love to see people make investments in organizations like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Girl Develop It -- all of those organizations are worthy of investment. But, we also think it is no substitute for fixing the problems with Uber," Elizabeth Ames, senior vice president at the Anita Borg Institute, told CNN Tech.

Ames added that an organization like Uber should focus on the retention and advancement of its current employees, ahead of focusing on recruiting.

Related: Silicon Valley finally faces a reckoning with sexism

Some see Uber's partnership announcement as a public relations charade that's part of an effort to clean up the company's image. Susan Wu, a founding team member at the nonprofit Project Include, which focuses on diversity and inclusion efforts, referred to the news as "diversity theatre" in a tweet, noting that it "hurts the industry. Shifts focus from real impact to check lists." Uber and Girls Who Code did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The announcement also drew the ire of Fowler, the former Uber engineer whose blog post forced the startup to address its culture. She tweeted directly at Saint John to "help the women who Uber hurt first. There are hundreds of 'em."

"I'm sure HR can give you a list of the employees who attempted suicide, the ones who committed suicide, and the ones who were hospitalized," she wrote, adding that she won't believe Uber has improved until those people are helped.

Related: Biology isn't why tech is a boy's club

Uber's pledge to Girls Who Code, which comes from a $3 million diversity fund, will help support Girls Who Code chapters across the country. Members of Uber's employee resource group "LadyEng" will start volunteering for the organization, according to the press release.

Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, made no mention of Uber's recent struggles in the announcement.

"Now more than ever it's important to see strong female leadership in the tech industry," read her statement. "Bozoma exemplifies this, and we're thrilled to have her on our board."

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