When Bozoma Saint John assumed the role of Chief Brand Officer for Uber, the company was in turmoil and in the midst of a public relations nightmare. CEO Travis Kalanick had just resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct while rampant reports were circulating of poor safety and sexual assault claims against the company’s drivers. While repairing the $68 billion firm’s image is a daunting task, Saint John insists that changing Uber’s culture cannot be the burden of one Black woman alone.
CNN reported that Saint John spoke at the SXSW festival on Sunday and charged her White male co-workers at Uber with the responsibility of improving diversity in their workplace. She says that the change to the company’s culture has to happen from the inside-out. The problem wasn’t created overnight and it isn’t the fault of any one individual.
Saint John also said that the lack of inclusion at Uber isn’t a unique problem. In the tech industry, it is actually par for the course. The former Apple Music exec referred to the numbers of Black people in Silicon Valley as “dismal” and asserted that Uber could take the lead on making changes. However, the entire industry must help move the conversation forward.
Tech company hiring execs have taken the position that the so-called pipeline of quality candidates is in short supply of women and minorities. Saint John called that notion “bulls**t” and said that they were being complacent. While it is natural to embrace what they already know and are comfortable with, tech companies fail to consider hiring candidates who don’t fit the norm.
Saint John describes herself as fearless and came into Uber with her eyes wide open. The company’s internal culture has been rooted in dishonesty and a tendency to cover-up rather than address serious issues. Bloomberg reported that the company’s 2016 cyber attack was purposely concealed from the public and that Uber paid the hackers $100,000 to keep them silent.
Adding insult to injury, Uber’s failure to run proper background checks led to the hiring of felons and unlicensed drivers who compromised passenger safety. For this infraction, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission fined the ride-sharing giant $8.9 million.
While the new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has the primary responsibility of improving Uber’s deep-seeded corporate culture, Saint John has to convince its customers that Uber is actually what it professes to be: a “customer obsessed” group of people who “celebrate differences” and “do the right thing” while valuing “ideas over hierarchy.” That is no small task, but Saint John is crystal clear on what her role is in the company’s transformation.
“I want White men to look around in their office and say, ‘Oh look, there’s a lot of White men here. Let’s change this,'” Saint John said at the SXSW festival. “Why do I — as the Black woman — have to fix that? There’s 50 of you, there’s one of me. Ya’ll fix it… Everybody else needs to make the noise — I want White men to make the noise.”