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Leon Kaye headshot

Embattled Uber Releases Its First Diversity Report

By Leon Kaye

Uber released its first diversity report this week following months of bad press, including fierce backlash over workplace sexual harassment allegations.

At face value, critics can easily find fault with the company’s recruitment and retention strategies. Uber reflects a Silicon Valley that many say is still overwhelmingly white and male, especially in technical and leadership positions. Then again, it is not necessarily faring any better or worse than its most widely-known peers within the U.S. technology sector.

Compared to Silicon Valley at large, the Uber report shows a mixed bag. The ridesharing giant about as racially and ethnically diverse as Apple and Facebook, with Apple appearing to be more successful in recruiting and retaining blacks and Hispanics. Uber also has a higher proportion of female employees compared to those two Silicon Valley titans. But when it comes to where much of the diversity argument lies – technical and engineering hires – Uber makes it clear it has work to do, which to many is obvious by the controversy over how Susan Fowler described her brief tenure at the company.

It is on the technology front, however, where Uber faces an uphill climb in recruitment. Only 15 percent of Uber’s technology jobs are filled by women. Compare that figure to 23 percent at Apple; Facebook does about just as poorly, with 16 percent of its technical jobs held by women. When it comes to ethnicity and racial background, Apple also outshines Uber with Hispanics and blacks each comprising 8 percent of its technical positions; again, Facebook only slightly edges out the ridesharing giant with its last figures showing 3 and 1 percent, respectively.

“It’s no secret that we’re late to release our numbers,” Liane Hornsey, chief human resources officer for Uber, wrote in the diversity report’s opening statement. With Hispanics holding 2 percent of technical and engineering jobs and blacks filling in only 1 percent, those who have become cynical toward Uber would respond that such a slow disclosure occurred for obvious reasons.

In fairness to Uber, these challenges are widespread throughout Silicon Valley. Symantec, for example, also reports low percentages of women and underrepresented minorities within its technical workforce, but the company says it aims to boost those numbers by 15 percent from 2014 figures by the end of this decade. Uber certainly could look to Symantec for ideas on how to improve its recruitment efforts: The Mountain View-based firm, which produces a wide range of security, storage and backup software packages, has implemented a bevy of programs to boost diversity and inclusion, from employee groups that help the company make strategic decisions to investing in STEM education in underserved communities.

Uber insists it is striving to become a more welcoming employer for workers of all backgrounds. The company says it plans to hold more recruitment events across the U.S. and claims to have accelerated outreach at historically black colleges and universities, as well as college campuses designated as Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Over the next three years, Uber promised to spend $3 million working with organizations that aim to recruit more women and underrepresented minorities into technology companies.

In other words: The company insists it is open to anyone from anywhere, citing its 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign equality index for LGBT employees. Uber also said 15 percent of its workforce hold U.S. work visas and have emigrated from 71 countries. The company also plans to update at least 1,500 job descriptions to rid them from “unconscious bias,” which some human resources experts say is a huge obstacle to diversity recruitment.

One high-level member of Uber’s leadership team said that she will hold the company accountable for its actions. “I will be holding their feet to the fire,” Arianna Huffington, a member of Uber’s board of directors, said during a press call held last week. “Uber must change if it is to be as successful in the next decade as it has been in the last seven years.”

But some observers, including a duo of Bloomberg staffers, say Uber left one glaring metric out of this report: employee retention. While many companies do not release such figures, a retention rate can say a lot about a company’s work culture, wrote Ellen Huet and Carol Hymowitz of Bloomberg, and whether non-white and non-male employees feel welcomed and valued.

Could this report indicate that Uber is ready to change its ways?

The company has been a proverbial punching bag as of late, with critics insisting it exhibits the worst traits of Silicon Valley and the tech sector. An ongoing leadership crisis has unfolded as the company is ensnared in litigation with Google over allegations of stolen technology; municipalities say Uber used its technology to sniff out local regulators; and many users deleted the Uber app after the company appeared to capitalize during a boycott of JFK Airport during the initial weekend of the Trump White House’s first travel ban.

Launching a frank discussion about its work culture and recruitment challenges are a first step for Uber, but the mountain of trust to which it must ascend is still a steep one.

Image credit: Núcleo Editorial/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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