Uber says it wants to go the distance to help solve the world's gender equity problems. The question is whether the effort will help consumers forget Uber's own gender issues.
The ride-hailing app said it's working with the United Nations to create 1 million jobs for women as drivers on its platform by 2020. In a statement on its blog, Uber called the vision a way to accelerate economic opportunity for women.
While that's a praiseworthy goal, the cynically minded critics may note that Uber has a lot at stake, given its own troubled track record with ensuring the safety of its female passengers and drivers. With sexual assault allegations against some drivers, including charges that led to Uber's ban in Delhi, the company has faced controversy over whether it provides suitable safety measures for workers and customers.
In response to the criticism, Uber has created a panic button for passengers in India, although that isn't available outside that country. Its women drivers have also encountered problems, such as harassment by male passengers through its lost-and-found service, which allows them to track down drivers.
Uber general counsel Salle Yoo told Buzzfeed that the company is committed to safety, describing it as Uber's "number-one priority." Yoo added, "We continue to learn and evolve ... women drivers bring a lot of real life experience. As a company, [listening to women is] where we should start."
The plan could help women across the world achieve parity with men, providing a career path that offers flexibility and even higher pay than other industries might offer. One challenge, however, will be simply convincing women to sign up as drivers, given that the taxi industry is heavily dominated by men.
In the U.S., the taxi industry is one of the country's most male-dominated industries. In New York City, a city where low car ownership means many residents rely on taxis, only 1 percent of its roughly 50,000 taxi drivers are women, according to a 2014 report from the city's Taxi & Limousine Commission.
One reason for that gender divide is that taxi driving is a dangerous profession. Taxi drivers are more than 20 times more likely to be murdered while working than other workers, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Some innovations are making it safer for all drivers, regardless of gender. Uber, for instance, takes cash out of the equation, with passengers paying via an account linked to their payment cards. By taking cash out of the cab, that might drive down the rate of violence incurred by drivers and help encourage more women to take the driver's seat.
There's good money to be had, according to a recent report commissioned by Uber. Their drivers make an average of $19.04 an hour, even after paying the company's commission, compared with the average hourly wage of $12.90 for all U.S. taxi drivers.