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Despite commitment to anti-racism, Uber's Black employee base has decreased

Megan Rose Dickey
·4-min read

Uber today released its latest diversity report, showing a decline in the overall representation of Black employees in the U.S. despite an increased focus on racial justice this year in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. In 2019, Uber was 9.3% Black while this year, only 7.5% of its employees are Black.

Uber attributes the decline in Black employees to its layoffs earlier this year, where about 40% of its employees in community operations were laid off, Uber Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee told TechCrunch.

"As a company that has so publicly stated its stance on anti-racism, that's not acceptable," she said.

That unintentional decline in the Black population at Uber "led to a lot of soul searching," she said. "Dara was certainly upset by it. Every leader was. It reinforced how easy it is to lose some ground after all the work you've done."

Lee said her diversity, equity and inclusion team was consulted prior to the layoffs in an attempt to ensure there was no disparate impact on any one group.

"The unfortunate thing that wasn't understood at the time was our customer service org in particular was hit pretty hard," she said. "The overall rate of layoffs was 25-26% in most parts."

But in the customer service organization, about 40% of employees were affected. And that part of the company had a higher representation of Black and Latinx folks than in other areas.

While Uber saw a decline in its overall Black population, it saw an overall net increase in women of color. And in order to get even more granular, Uber plans to start disaggregating the Asian community and Latinx community.

Uber first set diversity goals just last year. Those goals entailed increasing the percentage of women at levels L5 (manager level) and higher to 35% and increasing the percentage of underrepresented employees at levels L4 (senior associate) and higher to 14% by 2022.

Source: Uber. Uber's overall U.S. racial breakdown

Currently, Uber is 59.7% male, 44.8% white, 37.2% Asian, 7.5% Black, 8.4% Latinx, 1.3% multiracial, 0.3% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander and 0.5% Native American.

Uber does not break out the demographics of its gig workforce, but many studies have shown people of color make up a large portion of the gig economy.

In San Francisco, 78% of gig workers are people of color and 56% of gig workers are immigrants, according to a study conducted by San Francisco’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and led by UC Santa Cruz professor Chris Benner.

While Lee is not directly responsible for the driver and delivery population, she said they also represent a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. With that in mind, her team does advise other parts of Uber in policy setting as it relates to gig workers.

Uber has had a contentious relationship with its drivers and delivery workers for the last couple of years, especially in California. That all came to a head when California voters passed Proposition 22, a ballot measure that will keep gig workers classified as independent contractors. Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash collectively proposed and backed the measure with $206 million in funding.

On the other side of the proposition were labor groups representing gig workers. But it wasn't just gig workers who opposed the measure. Inside Uber, engineer Kurt Nelson spoke out against the measure. In fact, he credited the measure as being the final straw that led him to seek other job opportunities.

For Lee, deciding to support Prop 22 came down to paying attention to "who gets included and who gets excluded from policies." When looking at AB 5, the California bill that changed the way companies could classify their workers, she "couldn't help but notice the majority of independent contractor roles that were predominantly white were being excluded from AB 5."

For example, California exempted from AB 5 fine artists, freelance writers, still photographers, copy editors, producers and other types of professions.

"Maybe if AB 5 was applied differently, I would've landed somewhere else," Lee said, being sure to clarify she was speaking for herself and not for Uber. "For me, I recognize that Prop 22 was the right thing at the end of the day."

Meanwhile, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said the company plans to advocate for similar laws in other parts of the country and world. It's not clear what that will specifically entail, but an Uber spokesperson said the company plans to discuss this type of framework with stakeholders in other states and countries.