Uber: Diversity Chief Bernard Coleman Speaks in Interview | Time.com

Not the easiest job in the world:

Bernard Coleman jokes that his first week on the job at Uber was all he got as a “honeymoon period.”

He had logged little time as the company’s new head of diversity this January — the same job he did for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — before the hashtag #DeleteUber began trending. But while that PR firestorm (related to Trump’s controversial immigration order) was the start of months of tumult for the company, it was also proof to Coleman that he had chosen the right gig following an intense election. “The only difference between Uber and a campaign is campaigns end,” he says.

TIME spoke to Coleman in late May for a feature on diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley, and while he declined to comment on the investigation into Uber’s workplace practices being carried out by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s law firm, he did talk about his own assessments of the company. Though Uber has acknowledged, repeatedly, that parts of its culture are “broken,” Coleman says the culture isn’t as “toxic” as it often appears in the media: “I don’t think could get this big or survive if it were so toxic. It would destroy itself.”

Do you think the amount of scrutiny that Uber has been getting for diversity issues is fair?

No. … On the campaign, we had to contend with [scrutiny]. As we’d scale, people would say, ‘Look at them, they didn’t move the needle at all.’ It’s like, if you look at how we’re scaling and how difficult it is to even maintain your diversity numbers, let alone increase them … It can be disingenuous, in terms of understanding.

So moving the percentages becomes difficult.

More and more difficult. I wish people would call that out. But I understand we should do better, and Silicon Valley has been known for not doing so well. Working here at Uber, I think we can do better.

The industry as a whole has gotten a lot of scrutiny on diversity and inclusion issues. Why do you think that is?

For one, you have these talented and smart people and they’re solving all these other things and creating these wonderful innovations, products. You would think they could solve for this, if they put some of their effort into it … And I really do think it’s about scale. You start off with a small thing where you’re working on a product and that’s where all your focus is … If we need to get this thing launched or hit this city, that’s the priority. If my thoughts are on that, those other things fall by the wayside … You think of it as — I’ll get to that, I’ll get to that. And next thing you know, it’s a much bigger thing than you could have anticipated. And I don’t think it’s unique to Uber or Silicon Valley. I think it’s a general problem.

….One thing some tech companies have struggled with is that, inadvertently or not, they’ve turned out to be places where young white males have a better chance of success. Has Uber’s culture been that way?

If it’s built that way, in the beginning, if you’re a venture capitalist, and you’re a small group, then you suffer from culture myopia. You can’t see it. [Unless] you expand your circles, you’re not going to understand or fully appreciate how that culture is impacting others … That is why Silicon Valley is structured that way, just because when it first starts, maybe that core group is not extremely diverse. So we’re all sharing the same world view, and I’m not going to see the issues a black person or a woman might encounter, because it’s just not my reality.

….In terms of Uber’s first diversity report, released in March, what did you see as the most promising numbers and the most troubling numbers?

I was surprised that our women levels were that high … It’s 36.1%. We’ve got 13.9% to get to at least parity. So obviously there’s way more to do, but that was a happy surprise. Then our diversity numbers were like 50% people of color. Even though it’s over-indexed in some areas, that still was very surprising. Another one was our African-American numbers were actually much higher than [other companies in the tech industry] … I would like to see more women and people of color in leadership. That’s one thing that’s critically important, trying to build leadership pipelines to help folks.

Based on your assessments so far, what are the biggest challenges for women working at Uber?

Just feeling safe and supported. You want to know there are opportunities. You want to know you’re going to invest in me. You want to make sure I’m advancing. It’s called promotional velocity, that I’m getting promoted at the same rate as others, so that when I look to my left and my right at my peers, we’re in the hunt. … I don’t think [it’s any different for women than for men]. I just think it’s different levels and intensity. People of color, same things. Everyone’s feeling the same things.

Source: Uber: Diversity Chief Bernard Coleman Speaks in Interview | Time.com

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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