Reports Offer Conflicting Views on Uber Diversity

By Paula Bernier

Is Uber an innovator that has also been a pioneer within the tech industry in its hiring people of color? Or is the ride-sharing company one that discriminates against women and minorities, and that generally has such a high-pressure (and possibly racist) culture that at least one employee has resorted to suicide?

Recent reports indicate the answers may be yes and yes.

It brings to mind the “Of course…But maybe” bit by comedian Louis C.K. in which he talks about how many of history’s greatest achievements – like the manufacturing of Apple products and the building of the railroads – came at the expense of human suffering.

Of course, the human suffering, which continues today while businesses reap big profits, is no laughing matter. And reports indicate that Uber may be/have been doling out suffering on a number of fronts.

One example is its alleged discrimination against women, or at least one woman. As the Tech Culture blog reported in February, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler blogged that while she was at the company her supervisor made sexual advances at her, she complained to management, and she was discriminated against as a result.

That same month Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on camera berating a driver who complained about the company’s move to lower Uber Black fares. During that same video Kalanick was caught boasting about the company’s tough challenges and responses, which he indicated are a requirement in this competitive marketplace.

And this month we learned about an Uber software engineer named Joseph Thomas who, after allegedly exhibiting extreme signs of work-related stress, killed himself in his garage. The 34-year-old veteran tech worker “told his father and his wife that he felt immense pressure and stress at work, and was scared he’d lose his job,” according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The report says the victim’s father said the stress was created by Uber because it set up unrealistic tasks for the hard-driving Thomas, who as a result went into “failure mode.” The Thomas family and their lawyer say the victim may also have experienced racism on the job. The article went on to say that “Uber employs only a handful of black people in technical jobs” (1 percent) at the company and that blacks are not represented within the company’s leadership ranks.

According to a March 29 article by the SFGate, Uber’s report on diversity in the workplace shows “the same underrepresentation of women and non-Asian minorities – most notably among executives and tech workers – as most other major tech companies.”

But a March 26 WIRED article authored by Bari A. Williams had a very different take on the Uber workplace diversity report. In a story headlined “You’ll Never Guess Who Does Diversity Right: Uber,” Williams argues that the Uber report showed progress in the representation of people of color.

While only 36 percent of the workforce are women, according to the WIRED report, Uber leads in its hiring of people of color.

“The latest diversity report lists a 12,000-person Uber workforce that’s 8.8 percent black and 5.6 percent Latino,” writes Williams, who goes on to say that’s the first time a major tech company has provided diversity numbers showing black employees in greater numbers than Latinos. “It’s also the first time a company’s black employee share has passed 5 percent, which is inching closer to the 13 percent of blacks in the U.S. population. Uber’s percentage of Latino employees also exceeds that of many other tech companies.”

Improvement is great. But equal representation, equal ability to be promoted, and equal pay are entirely different. And that’s what we should be striving for.

Studies show that creating positive, or at least tolerable, workplace environments can also led to better outcomes for both employee and employer. And I believe that’s true.

That said, I couldn’t help but notice that the study noted in the story for which I provided the above link came from the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and the Globoforce Work-Human Research Institute.

I noted that because it’s strange that IBM should be issuing such a study around the same time it ended its remote work policy, has been laying off large numbers of workers without notice, and seems to be indiscriminately replacing experienced workers with young folks in an effort to up its “hip factor”.

By the way, this all comes shortly after IBM CEO Ginni Rometty publicly said the company would be hiring 25,000 U.S. workers and spending $1 billion on training in the next four years.

TMC is working to raise awareness of such issues. It's dedicated to bringing this kind of important information to light and recognizing those companies that are effecting positive change in the workplace and the world.

We invite you to explore and participate in the TMC Workplace Excellence Award program including the Tech Culture Award, the Tech Diversity Award, and the Social Responsibility Award. Applications for the Tech Culture Award have already closed. But we’re accepting applications for the Tech Diversity Award through the end of this month. And the application process for the Social Responsibility Aware remains open until May 31.

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