Uber diversity head says 'culture change doesn't happen overnight'

Bo Young Lee says meaningful reform usually takes a few years.

Abrar Al-Heeti Video producer / CNET
Abrar Al-Heeti is a video host and producer for CNET, with an interest in internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. Before joining the video team, she was a writer for CNET's culture team. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
Expertise Abrar has spent her career at CNET breaking down the latest trends on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram, while also reporting on diversity and inclusion initiatives in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Credentials
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Abrar Al-Heeti
3 min read
Bo Young Lee

Bo Young Lee, left, speaks to TechCrunch senior reporter Megan Rose Dickey at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on Friday. 

Abrar Al-Heeti/CNET

Uber is still working to fix its culture, but it'll take some time. 

"We're still going through culture change, and culture change doesn't happen overnight," Bo Young Lee, Uber's chief diversity and inclusion officer, said Friday at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. "You can put out new cultural norms, you can put out new cultural values. But it's not until those values are built into our systems ... [that] you're going to see the full manifestation of it."

Uber hired Lee in January as its first chief diversity and inclusion officer. The company has been working to rebuild its image after a series of scandals that led to an exodus of executives, five federal investigations and an internal investigation led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder. This all came after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote a blog post last February describing instances of sexual harassment, gender bias and unprofessional business practices at the company.

Lee has been working alongside Dara Khosrowshahi, who was named Uber's new CEO last year, to change how the company recruits and hires people in an effort to reduce bias. 

"I have every reason to believe that Uber can evolve," Lee wrote in a LinkedIn post in April. "I am stubborn and I will not be satisfied until I know that I have made Uber a place where every person feels more validated, seen, valued, and included."

In April, Uber said it increased the overall number of female employees over the last year to 38 percent, an increase of 1.9 percent. It also reported that its staff is 48.6 percent white, 1.2 percent less than last year's number. The company has created employee resource groups and a workshop program focused on inclusion and diversity. It also supports organizations seeking to boost the number of women and minorities in tech, such as Girls Who Code and Smash Strategy.

Lee said on Friday that it typically takes between two to three years for a company to see meaningful change, and five years for new systems to be cemented. To get there, she wants to make sure Uber is thinking about diversity in every step of the hiring process. Lee added that she's spoken with Uber's talent acquisition team, recruiting team and hiring managers about ways to bring new people into the company pipeline and also shift any biases toward those candidates.  

Uber hasn't set specific, targeted goals in its diversity reports because those things don't necessarily allow a company to progress, Lee said.

"If it was as easy as setting a target and then somehow things would change magically, every company should have changed by this point," Lee said. "When you set a goal, the inadvertent impact it has is that every woman that gets hired, every person of color that gets hired -- every woman and person of color that gets promoted -- suddenly gets an invisible scarlet letter saying, 'You're there because of a quota.'"

Later this year, Uber will make a review of its diversity metrics a standard part of its quarterly business reviews, Lee said. With that, the company will not only look at representative data around hiring, retention and promotion, but also plans to identify things that have historically indicated the rate of promotion or retention is improving. 

Lee added that she'd like for Uber's teams to represent its consumers, so that the company can accurately reflect their mindset in its designs.  

"That's when I'll know we've been successful," she said. 

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