raceAhead: Uber Gets a New Chief Diversity Officer
Uber is making a move toward a more inclusive workforce, just not exactly the way people expected.
In a surprising announcement, Bo Young Lee has been named the company’s first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer, according to Recode. Previously, Lee was the global diversity and inclusion officer at the financial services firm, Marsh. She will be reporting to Uber’s chief human resources officer, Liane Hornsey, for the time being.
The move is, in part, a nod to one of the 47 recommendations provided by former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and his partner, Tammy Albarran, after their firm conducted an investigation into the company’s embattled culture. The triggering event was the now-famous blog post by engineer Susan Fowler alleging sexual harassment and discrimination, but the reckoning had been a long time coming.
While the recommendations were adopted by the Uber board, at least in spirit, the Holder memo had a specific recommendation about Bernard Coleman, then the company’s highest-ranking diversity executive. First, that he be elevated to a c-suite role, and second, that he report directly to the CEO or COO. Instead, Coleman will be reporting to Lee. From the memo:
Uber should elevate the visibility of the current Head of Diversity, Bernard Coleman, and emphasize the outreach component of Mr. Coleman’s position. Uber should increase the activities and communications of Mr. Coleman’s team. As part of these communications, the Head of Diversity could send updates to employees regarding the company’s diversity efforts, engage in outreach efforts to Uber employees and affinity groups at Uber, and serve as a resource for senior management and rank-and-file employees alike with respect to diversity and inclusion. In addition, the position should be renamed the “Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” and the position should report directly to the CEO or the COO.
Coleman joined in January 2017, after leaving his post as head of diversity for the Hillary Clinton campaign. He’d barely been a week on the job when #DeleteUber began to trend worldwide, after the company appeared to undermine taxi drivers during a strike at JFK Airport in support of protests against President Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” executive order. He told Time that the drama couldn’t break his stride. “The only difference between Uber and a campaign is campaigns end,” he said.
Coleman has been a popular figure in diversity circles, managing to walk the fine line between being candid about the challenges of inclusion, while remaining hopeful that the work can be accomplished. But his most recent Forbes column also sounds like a memo to his new boss:
“When you examine the ranks of most tech companies, it is statistically improbable that senior ranks would be devoid of women and people of color, considering the makeup of our country — which has over 326 million people and the ability to attract talent from anywhere in the world,” he begins. “It requires the tech industry to take an honest assessment of how we arrived at this non-diverse, non-inclusive environment that somehow does not mirror the society that we all inhabit. This moment is about having a tough conversation, not silencing dissent but actually hearing what others have to say no matter how much we may disagree. Ideas and ideologies cannot be fired or quieted. We are at an inflection point that requires deep organizational introspection on what got us here and what we can collectively do to move forward.”
A quick look at Lee’s LinkedIn shows her to be a committed diversity professional. And in a second surprise twist, it shows that she was a diversity and inclusion advisor to the Hillary for America campaign and a former member of Coleman’s team. The inclusion world is small, indeed.
I hope this reunion bodes well for the ride-sharing company and its many stakeholders, not to mention, the broader tech ecosystem. Lee, who starts in March and will be based in New York, is sending the right signals. “We will be real partners in a lot of this work,” Lee told Recode. “Bernard and I have had some conversations about what his role will be.”
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