Chobani's Hamdi Ulukaya (Michael Gonda/Wikimedia Commons)
Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya has made a point of ensuring that the public knows how much he cares about his employees: About a year ago, he announced that he was giving them stakes in the company, to be taken out of his own shares, and last October, Chobani joined the growing ranks of US employers expanding their parental leave policies for both mothers and fathers.
Ulukaya, who was born in Turkey and emigrated to the US in 1994, has also been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. In February, Chobani was one of a few non-tech companies to sign onto an amicus brief in opposition to Trump’s executive order temporarily banning citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US and suspending the admission of refugees; it is also one of several companies that have committed to hiring refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries this year.
If Ulukaya wanted attention for these stances, he certainly got it. The CEO appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program Sunday evening, where he defended his refugee hiring program with the memorable line: “The minute they get a job, that’s the minute they stop being a refugee.” He was also profiled in a cover story for the April issue of Fast Company, which focused on his conscientious approach to how he manages his business and his own wealth:
Chobani has always given 10% of its profits to charitable causes, and Ulukaya is eager to help the communities in which his company operates (in 2011, he renovated a public baseball field near his upstate New York plant, for example). Chobani also pays above-average wages, and that new family-leave policy offers full pay for any new parent, including foster and adoptive parents. Ulukaya has put a great deal of thought into cultivating a spirit of warmth and enthusiasm that most people wouldn’t associate with working in a factory, and when you spend time at the company’s plants, the positivity is obvious.
While Ulukaya and his company earned these favorable media mentions rather than buying them, that doesn’t mean they weren’t part of its public relations strategy. Ad Age‘s Jessica Wohl explains the role earned media is playing in Chobani’s new marketing campaign:
In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Uber director Arianna Huffington joined newly appointed chief HR officer Liane Hornsey and Rachel Holt, who heads its North American operations, to discuss how the ride-sharing startup has responded to allegations of sexual harassment and widespread sexist behavior at the company that came to light a month ago, which prompted calls from investors and current and former employees to address what they described as a toxic workplace culture.
According to the Verge, there were no major announcements on Tuesday’s conference call, as the Uber leaders “acknowledged that there were serious problems with the company, but sought to convey the message that things were well in-hand”:
Huffington repeated her promise to hold [CEO Travis] Kalanick’s “feet to the fire,” as well as her declaration that there would be “no room for brilliant jerks” at Uber in the future. Hornsey discussed efforts to improve Uber’s hiring processes and training programs to improve diversity and ensure that efforts to report harassment and sexism aren’t sabotaged or ignored[.] …
“We need to bring more humanity to the way we interact with drivers,” Holt said, before ticking off all the things Uber was doing to accomplish that. This includes easier-to-read earnings statements and a new app feature that allows riders to correct pick-up locations without canceling a trip in-progress. Uber will also take into account the number of trips completed by a driver when weighing deactivation as a result of rider complaints, Holt said, so a driver who completes 10,000 trips receives more deference than a driver who completes just 10 trips.
Hornsey also confirmed that the company’s first diversity report was on its way; that report is currently expected to come out early next month.
The acrimonious political climate of the US today is creating a major distraction for employees throughout the country, but it’s also bound to get some workers in hot water for voicing contentious political views or making unprofessional comments about politics on social media. The Chicago Tribune has now passed along a fresh example of this phenomenon which started last Tuesday during President Donald Trump’s joint speech to Congress:
During the speech, [Daniel] Grilo, at the time a principal at Liberty Advisor Group, tweeted, “Sorry Owens’ wife, you’re not helping yourself or your husband’s memory by standing there and clapping like an idiot. Trump just used you.” Grilo was referring to Carryn Owens, whose husband, Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, was killed during a January raid that targeted an al-Qaida stronghold in Yemen. Owens attended the president’s speech and cried as Trump acknowledged her and the audience applauded.
The tweet sparked a firestorm not only on Twitter, but on several social networks including 4chan and Reddit, shredding Grilo for his comments. … Despite his apologies, Liberty Advisor Group deleted his profile on their website and dismissed Grilo. “The individual who issued the tweet is no longer affiliated with Liberty. … His comments were inconsistent with the Company’s values and the unyielding respect it has for the members of our Nation’s Armed Forces,” said a statement posted on the company’s website Wednesday.
Grilo isn’t the first employee to be fired because of an ill-advised tweet, nor will he likely be the last, but his case is a lesson in the unique challenges a highly polarized political environment poses for employers and HR. Americans will likely post controversial and inappropriate political comments to their public social media accounts by the millions this year, so forward-thinking HR leaders might consider devising proactive strategies for addressing employees’ controversial social media posts rather than reacting to individual instances (and negative attention they create) as they come. Since last year, political tensions have been running high in the American workplace—a trend that is unlikely to abate anytime soon—and increasingly contentious and divisive politics is just one aspect of the uncertain business environment companies are facing in 2017.
Nicolas McComber /iStock
On Sunday, ex-Uber engineer Susan J. Fowler published a troubling account of what it was like to work for the company, alleging a pattern of sexual harassment, a toxic work environment, deceptive HR enforcement, and both management inaction and also retaliation against her for reporting incidents. The account has quickly gone viral and sent shockwaves across the tech sector, and it has even led at least some of the company’s customers to quit using the service. CEO Travis Kalanick responded very quickly to the scandal, immediately releasing a statement declaring that the work experiences Fowler detailed were “abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in,” and that he had instructed the company’s chief HR officer “to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations.” The company then went even further and hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder to run that investigation, and Uber board member Arianna Huffington is participating as well.
In the wake of Fowler’s letter, some of the ridesharing company’s investors have begun to voice concerns about the company having a culture problem. Venture capitalists Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, some of Uber’s earliest backers, published an open letter to the board and other investors on Thursday, saying they were “disappointed and frustrated” at Uber’s pattern of “responding to public exposure of bad behavior by holding an all-hands meeting, apologizing and vowing to change, only to quickly return to aggressive business as usual”:
The executive order issued by President Trump on Friday, which temporarily barred refugees and citizens of seven designated countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—from entering the US, has been met with some criticism from the ranks of America’s corporate leaders. In statements to employees and to the press, many CEOs have expressed concern that either the order itself or the new administration’s more restrictive approach to immigration in general will be disruptive to business and harmful to their ability to hire and retain talent, as well as their diversity and inclusion initiatives. The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor gives an overview of corporate America’s reaction to the president’s polarizing order:
“Employees do hold their CEOs and leadership accountable for defending those values when the line has been crossed,” said Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber-Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist. After years of communicating and focusing on diversity and inclusion as a corporate value, she says, CEOs “do feel under a lot of pressure right now, and are trying to figure out what to say about Trump’s ban and how to speak to their employees. They’ve set a high bar and an expectation that diversity really matters. That is adding a lot of firepower to getting CEOs to speak up.”
Some of the statements from CEOs have included not only concerns but personal reflections. “I am deeply concerned, as many of you are, with this fracture in our society,” wrote MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, who was born in India. “I am an immigrant into this wonderful country. I came here midway through my career and have over the past years made this my home and pledged my allegiance to all that the Constitution stands for.” …
Saatchi & Saatchi executive chairman Kevin Roberts is in trouble after telling Business Insider in an interview that he thinks the debate over gender equality in advertising is “over” and that the reason there are so few women in leadership positions in the industry is that women’s ambition “is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy.” Publicis Groupe, the Paris-based holding company that owns Saatchi & Saatchi, has forced Roberts to take a leave of absence while its supervisory board decides on his future with the company, Shereen Pathak reports at Digiday:
Publicis CEO Maurice Levy sent an internal memo to employees to “reiterate the Groupe’s no-tolerance policy toward behavior or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe and its celebration of difference.” Roberts is a high-ranking Publicis official, serving on its top executive management unit. … After he made the comments, industry activist Cindy Gallop, who was accused by Roberts of fueling the issue just to raise her profile, asked the industry to tweet what they thought at Roberts. Plenty did, including Pepsi exec Brad Jakeman and Taco Bell CMO Marisa Thalberg. …
Sources said that Publicis Communications CEO Arthur Sadoun also sent a memo to employees following Roberts’ comments that said, in part, that he found Roberts’ remarks offensive and that this behavior was not acceptable within the Groupe. “I am sorry that the comments made by Kevin have reflected poorly upon the Groupe and our culture,” he wrote.
The agency itself has quickly moved to condemn the executive chairman’s remarks, Stephen Lepitak adds at the Drum, putting out a statement from its CEO to defend his agency’s approach to diversity and gender equality, while acknowledging that the industry still has a lot of work to do in that department:
In the HR-as-PR competition, GE has been making waves with its innovative approach to recruitment marketing and employer brand. Last week, the company rolled out a sponsored content deal with Girls creator Lena Dunham’s online publication Lenny Letter, the centerpiece of which was an interview between Dunham and GE vice chair Beth Comstock that mainly focused on empowering women in tech:
LD: Rumor has it that you have a pretty serious, excuse the parlance of our time, “girl squad.” I’d love to hear more about it. You were here today at the Matrix Awards to honor someone who you work with at GE. How do your powerful female peers bolster you, and what have those relationships meant to you?
BC: I love the women I work with. I love the power of meeting people and connecting dots and figuring out what you have in common and how you can help one another. … I’ve tried to reach not only across generations, but also across different kinds of functions and expertise. To get women who are scientists together with women who are artists, and to get them to connect on a different level. Not to just connect about their work, but connect about who they are. I think it’s an obligation. I feel I have to help bring women along.
At one point I looked around, and most of those working for me were women. I’m also a big believer in diversity. Diversity equals innovation. It doesn’t mean just women, you have to have men, too. So I felt bad about it. Should I be hiring different people? Then I thought: In the scheme of things, there aren’t enough women here. That’s my job. To keep bringing in great women and feel nothing more than pride at seeing them go.
At the same time, the interview is designed with a casual and playful feel, and is clearly aimed at humanizing Comstock—and by extension, the organization she represents: