Uber challenged on diversity by Jesse Jackson

The civil-rights leader calls on the ride-hailing company to release diversity figures on its workforce, as Apple, Facebook and others have done.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Unlike other big tech firms, the company has yet to reveal figures on staff diversity.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Unlike other big tech firms, the company has yet to reveal figures on staff diversity.

James Martin/CNET

A long list of big-name tech companies have released statistics on the racial and gender makeup of their workforces, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

Uber isn't on that list. And on Thursday, civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson wrote a letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick pushing the ride-hailing company to make its diversity figures public.

"As we enter the new year...we urge Uber to 'lean in' and join the ranks of technology companies that are reporting your diversity and inclusion data," Jackson wrote, referencing the title of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book about women in the workplace.

Over the last few years, diversity in tech has gotten a lot of attention, with a slew of news stories focusing on the largely white and male composition of staffs and boards of directors. One especially high profile conflict involved former venture capitalist and ex-Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, who lost her sexual discrimination lawsuit against VC firm Kleiner Perkins in March 2015.

With his Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Jackson has been at the forefront of activism regarding diversity in Silicon Valley. In 2014 he called on Google to release its statistics, and shortly thereafter the company complied. Several other major tech firms quickly followed suit. Popular startups like Airbnb and Pinterest have released their diversity numbers, and Uber rival Lyft has pledged to do so this year.

Companies aren't required to release racial and gender statistics on employees, so Uber isn't under any obligation to heed Jackson's request. The company reportedly ignored Jackson's first appeal to release diversity stats, in 2015, and in May 2016, according to The Boston Globe, Uber said it doesn't release diversity statistics.

As for this most recent request, the ride-hailing company said it's reviewed Jackson's letter but hasn't yet responded.

"We appreciate the attention and focus Rev. Jackson brings to these issues and look forward to continuing our discussions," an Uber spokeswoman wrote in an email.

Uber announced Thursday that it had hired Bernard Coleman as its new global chief of diversity and inclusion. Coleman joins Uber from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, where he headed diversity efforts. Liane Hornsey, Uber's chief human resources officer, said that once Coleman starts in the next couple of weeks, he'll be working to "build the right programs and teams."

Uber said it currently doesn't have plans to release its diversity statistics but that there may be discussions about the matter when Coleman arrives.

In his letter to Uber, Jackson also asked the company to hire from and invest in the local community for its upcoming Oakland, Calif., headquarters. Uber is remodeling a 400,000-square-foot building in the city's downtown neighborhood. Slated to house 2,000 to 3,000 employees, the facility would make Uber one of Oakland's largest employers.

"Uber will soon be moving its headquarters to Oakland, the 'rainbow' city of the West Coast, with a mixed African-American, Latino, Asian and white population," Jackson wrote. "It is significant that Uber has chosen to base your headquarters here. It's even more important that Uber build a company that reflects the multiracial, multicultural character of Oakland."

Such a big-scale project has some community groups worried about rising costs and gentrification. A small coalition of these groups has been meeting with Uber to urge the company to adopt the same "hire and invest" approach Jackson is requesting.

"We're glad Jesse Jackson is stepping up and aiding the fight here in Oakland," said Orson Aguilar, president of Oakland's Greenlining Institute, one of the groups in the coalition. "Community activists here have been asking for Uber to make an ubercommitment to Oakland, and that requires hiring people from Oakland, having a diverse staff and really investing."

Correction, 4:42 p.m.: The original version of this story misstated the location of the Greenlining Institute. It's based in Oakland.

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