Uber Report: Company's Diversity Effort a Work in Progress

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek April 27, 2018
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The percentage of some underrepresented groups working in technology at Uber Technologies—the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company—has increased slightly since 2017, according to the company's second annual diversity report, released Tuesday.

But while the percentage of women in technology leadership roles grew to 15.6 percent from 11.3 percent, the percentage of tech leaders who are black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latino remained at zero.

Data from the company's second annual diversity update is as of March 2018.

Uber, which operates in 65 countries, said it is launching new leadership programs for women and underrepresented groups in the second quarter of the year.

Those changes and others were triggered by an independent investigation in 2017, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, into claims of sexual harassment, gender bias and retaliation at the company. The investigation was prompted by a Feb. 19, 2017, blog post in which former company engineer Susan Fowler alleged that she had been a victim of sexual harassment, gender bias and retaliation. Holder's report included 46 recommendations for the company, which Uber's board unanimously agreed to follow.

Still a Lot of Work to Do 

"We have made meaningful progress over the last year, but we still have a lot of work to do to increase representation of women and underrepresented groups," wrote Liane Hornsey, Uber's chief human resource officer, in the report.

The report showed an increase globally in the percentage of women holding tech jobs at Uber—17.9 percent in 2018 compared to 15.4 percent in 2017. The percentage of blacks, and Hispanic or Latino employees in tech jobs in the U.S. also saw slight increases.

Uber diversity graphic.jpg

There was an uptick in the percentage of black and Hispanic or Latino employees in non-tech leadership roles—2.8 percent of its leaders are black, and 1.4 percent are Hispanic or Latino in 2018, compared to 2.3 percent of leaders in 2017 who are black and 0.8 percent who are Hispanic or Latino. Uber also reported that 23 percent of its board of directors are women.

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Develop a Diversity and Inclusion Initiative]   

In March, Uber hired its first chief diversity officer, Bo Young Lee, former global diversity and inclusion officer at financial services company Marsh & Guy Partner in New York City. And the company is changing how it recruits and hires, according to Hornsey. That includes going to historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions to recruit employees.

Additionally, it has: 

  • Rewritten more than 1,500 job descriptions to make them more inclusive.
    "Research has shown that job descriptions can unintentionally exclude diverse applicants based on how they are worded," Bernard Coleman wrote in a 2017 column for SHRM Online. Coleman, Uber's global head of diversity and inclusion, is a former member of SHRM's Government Affairs staff. 
  • Started using structured interviews so candidates are asked the same questions and are judged on the same competencies. 
  • Trained more than 1,000 new interviewers for the engineering department to mitigate bias. 
  • Implemented an "interview moderator" program that uses employees not involved in the interview process to monitor interviewers' deliberations to ensure objectivity in decision-making.
  • Asked lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees to self-identify; 15 percent have done so.
  • Made changes to foster race and gender pay equity; in its report Uber promised to "keep an eye on the data to ensure [it maintains] fair and competitive compensation over the long term."
  • Implemented its first global diversity workshop, "Why Diversity Matters." Nearly 4,000 employees have participated in the live, experiential program that Hornsey called "the foundation for all programming that will follow."
    The workshop "combines academic, anecdotal and work-based examples to make an immersive experience that draws in the audience and fosters a dynamic dialogue and discussion," according to Coleman. 

Look for Potential Roadblocks 

Uber is "making positive strides" to be more diverse and inclusive, observed Audra Jenkins, SHRM-SCP, chief diversity and inclusion officer, Randstad North America. The staffing and HR services firm is headquartered in Atlanta.

"Every company struggles with the right balance of diversity," she said. "They're going to have to look deep and long and hard on what their recruiting and hiring goals are." Jenkins offered Uber the following advice:

  • Figure out what is preventing women from assuming leadership roles. Jenkins pointed to research that found women are less likely than men to apply for executive roles if they do not think they are 100 percent qualified for the job.
  • Assign mentors to women and others from underrepresented groups to make them feel welcome and to groom a more diverse pool of employees for leadership positions.
  • Consider how to broaden the diversity of its hiring team, such as using an interview panel that includes underrepresented groups at the company.
  • Consider blind-screening resumes.
    "Make sure you're treating all candidates the same," said Jenkins, who praised Uber's implementation of structured interview questions. She advised building interview questions around company values, in addition to asking standard skills questions, as a way to mitigate bias.
  • Localize the its diversity strategy. Uber has a "great, overarching strategy, but it needs to be more granular" and should include a plan to retain that talent, Jenkins said. 

Uber did not respond to SHRM Online's request for comments on the company's report.  

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