SXSW 2018: Uber Discusses Diversity, Flying Cars

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Bozoma Saint John at SXSW 2018

SpaceX isn’t the only airborne brand aiming to dazzle the tech-jaded crowd at SXSW—Embraer and Uber will reveal details of their so-called flying car at a panel on Tuesday.

As announced last year, the Brazilian aerospace conglomerate and the San Francisco-based ride-sharing service will update the status of their joint venture, Uber Elevate, to develop small electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (VTOLs) for short commutes.

Ahead of that presentation, Uber’s chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John—the former Apple Music marketer who joined the embattled startup in June 2018 to “fix Uber,” as the New York Times put it—took to the SXSW stage on Sunday to talk about a challenge that makes flying cars look easy: fixing discrimination in the workplace.

Saint John was hired after Uber’s first diversity report, released in March 2017, showed no technical leaders who are black or Hispanic. Among non-technical leadership positions, 3.7% were black and 1.2% were Hispanic.

She was blunt in her SXSW talk (catch a snippet above) in her assessment of what it’s going to take to improve those numbers: transparency and shared accountability. “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,'” she stated.

“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.”

“We can use technology to better our lives and society, but we also need to connect to people — it’s very important that we’re using this moment in time to understand what our humanity is,” she added. “Everyone is going to be skeptical if they don’t know what is happening. So it is about transparency at the end of the day.”

Saint John also shared that she even tried driving an Uber Pool shift to see the brand from drivers’ point of view. “I like to get out and understand what’s going on the road too,” she commented. “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.”

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