5 lessons from Uber’s pivot on diversity

The ride-booking company is trying to transform its reputation by hiring exciting, diverse leaders. How can other organizations replicate their efforts?

Uber is back in the headlines—but this time the narrative is about what it is doing well.

The beleaguered company is trying to flip the script on its well-documented lack of diversity with high-profile hires. By sending diverse and engaging spokespeople to represent the company at events such as SXSW, Uber hopes to craft a new narrative of a big tech company that is turning things around.

How can other organizations emulate Uber’s efforts?

Here are five lessons about how Uber’s diversity campaign has garnered positive headlines:

1. Empower talented spokespeople to speak their truth.

Although you might be tempted to use focus groups and A/B testing to hone your diversity messages, there’s no substitute for straight talk. Uber afforded one of its new stars a chance to speak, and she got covered by CNN and others.

CNN reported:

Bozoma Saint John, Uber’s chief brand officer, called on white men to help diversify their workplaces.

“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 on Sunday.

Saint John said the onus should not be on people of color to improve diversity at work: “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.”


2. Use authentic language.

Diversity problems are an emotionally charged topic for many in the United States, and toothless corporate jargon doesn’t help address how diversity shapes employee and customer experiences.

Let your spokespeople speak candidly; if a strong word is called for, use it.

CNN continued:

One problem often cited for the lack of diversity is that the pipeline of candidates lacks enough women and minorities.

“That’s bulls–t,” Saint John said.

Saint John added it’s common for people to stick to what’s familiar, what makes them comfortable. As a result, they don’t seek people who don’t have similar backgrounds to or look like them, she said.


3. Let your spokesperson be the story.

Distilling an expansive narrative such as diversity into a compact package for a news segment can be tricky. Putting forth a vocal representative of your diverse workforce helps your organization get to the essence of the change you want to implement.

Uber was happy for Saint John to be the story in a piece for Business Insider, and her depiction of her arrival during Uber’s “lowest point” allowed for a dramatic telling of the change the company was undergoing.

It wrote:

The fact that Uber was perhaps at its lowest point made her want to take on the challenge, she said. Plus, she wanted to be a part of the solution as far as issues of women’s empowerment and diversity are concerned.

“I was just open to this idea what was happening to the brand, what was happening culturally, what was happening in our larger society and how I could actually help to move the conversation forward,” she said. “This is a critical moment, we are cracking it open, and I intend to step right in there and bust it wide open.”

4. Bring your spokesperson down to earth.

Saint John’s message might have never landed if she appeared to be an out-of-touch executive who did not represent the company’s employees and customers.

Erase that barrier with a simple tactic: Let your executive do work that lower-ranking employees do. Saint John, for example, was happy to reveal she had been moonlighting as a driver.

Business Insider continued:

In fact, to get a finger on the pulse of consumers and drivers, she made the revelation that she’s been driving for Uber Pool herself.

“I like to get out and understand what’s going on the road too,” she said. “The adage is true: walk a mile in my shoes or drive a mile in my car. There is nothing quite like sitting in the seat yourself.”

5. Raise your spokesperson’s profile with social media.

To ensure your diversity envoy is getting heard, share their social media posts. By sharing their updates, your organization can be seen boosting marginalized voices and letting strong writers speak for themselves, both of which fortify your authenticity.

Uber retweeted Saint John:

How are you talking about diversity, Ragan/PR Daily Daily readers?

(Image via)

Topics: PR


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.