Why I quit Uber: A response to Susan Fowler's story

Sean Cervera is a former Uber employee who worked on its diversity and inclusion team. He’s now at LinkedIn where he posted his reflections on his time at Uber. They are reprinted here with permission.
Over the past week, countless people and esteemed publications have reached out to me, to see if I would validate Susan’s horrific story and experience at Uber, make a public statement about Diversity at Uber or explain why I left Uber after 5-6 short months. While I have no intentions of reiterating Susan’s experience or sharing private details about my experience at Uber, I thought I would do my best to shed some light on a few topics.

Yes, you are correct. I supported Diversity Initiatives at Uber. I was recruited to Uber through a series of weekend meet and greets, case study exercises and interviews. I fell in love with their mission to revolutionise transportation and create access for ALL people. My role at Uber changed 4-5 times over my 5 months or so. I was shifted from Tech Recruiting to R4R (Recruiting Recruiters) to Leadership Recruiting back to Leading R4R as Uber tried to double the size of its tech recruiting team. When interviewing, I was told that they would love to leverage my background in Diversity and make that a big portion of my job. How could I say no to the Silicon Valley Billion Dollar Unicorn/Darling? After being told to remove diversity from my title and description on my LinkedIn Profile by HR, I realised that Diversity Recruiting and my scope may not overlap as much as I had expected. Understanding that the only thing that is constant is change, I expected this. #startuplife

After meeting with the Diversity Lead and sharing my frustrations, I was given a 10% allocation to Diversity & appointed on a “board” of 4-5 people, who were filled with passionate, diversity champions and equality architects. After a month or so, I realised that Uber’s commitment to Diversity was easier said than done. They had hired one of the most talented, vocal, inspiring and dedicated D&I professionals but his role was in constant flux as well. A commitment to Diversity comes in countless forms, where hiring the Head of D&I is the first step followed by a series of actions like building out a team, defining diversity, ERG management but more importantly, executive buy-in and support. Diversity should be a strategic investment and priority for all businesses, as companies do not succeed without people from ALL backgrounds. And this has to come from the top down. Uber lacked this commitment from executives. A head of D&I can only be as effective as the leadership staff allows them to be.

Upon my departure, I wrote a two page email to some of the E-staff members explaining why I was leaving and the issues we were facing as a recruiting organisation (I CC’ed myself), with diversity being at the forefront. I called out specific issues, verbiage, unprofessional behaviour and so on. I did not receive a single response. This was me trying one last time.

While I am not here to validate Fowler’s story, I can somewhat confirm that Diversity & Inclusion remains a crucial area of opportunity for Uber, from my personal experience. We all perceive things differently. I applaud Uber for taking the right steps and taking immediate action on this, hopefully all authentic. I hope they live up to their word and I understand the issues with Huffington leading the audit. It’s at least a step in the right direction. We all make mistakes. What defines us is how we react, tackle and overcome.

Let me reiterate, there are countless Uber employees who care about diversity and equality. I saw Uber attending the Lesbians Who Tech summit, and was so incredibly proud. Imagine the questions and concerns. They stood firm and personified a commitment to diversity. Uber has hired incredible people, which is a majority of their employee base. So please, don’t assume that all Uber employee’s share the mentality or view points as those depicted in articles.

If you take anything from Susan’s story, I hope that it’s the fact that we live in a world that is far less equal and inclusive than we would like to think. That Susan is not alone. I applaud Susan for her courage, as sharing this story is far from easy. What happened to her is horrific and unjustifiable. More importantly, it’s illegal.

I want to ensure you that Susan’s experience does not represent the environments of all tech companies. By any means. The Google’s, LinkedIn’s, Facebook’s, Airbnb’s and Apple’s of the world have dedicated countless resources, funds and have vocal leaders who have taken a stance on what is right and just. But we have all struggled. LinkedIn is incredibly blessed to have leaders like Kathy Goss & Sandy Hoffman who consistently stand up for what is right and challenge the status quo.

Startups like Stripe, Asana, Atlassian, Hired and Earnest are in the process of building out their teams and initiatives even though their employee size is far from Uber’s. Companies like Slack just organically built it in their process from the get go. People care. Companies care. Silicon Valley has struggled, don’t get me wrong, but Diversity will not be fixed overnight. It is a strategic commitment for the lifetime of any organisation. Diversity matters to so many people and is an integral part of tech companies cultures, missions and visions. People don’t realise how difficult diversity truly is. We’ve been fighting for equality since the inception of this nation and are still far from truly achieving it.

We talk about diversity. We advocate for equality. We are fighting to create environments where you can be your authentic self. Don’t get me wrong, no company has nailed down Diversity and Inclusion. We all struggle. But more importantly, we all keep fighting and we take ownership when we fall. Diversity is hard. Diversity is difficult. But it is about creating access, opportunity and empowerment. And this is worth the battle.

I have chosen a career in Diversity because I have seen ignorance flourish. I have experienced discrimination. People’s worth and the calibration of their talent should be determined by their drive, their passion, their effort, their resilience, their ability and their potential, not by the colour of their skin, who they dare to love, their gender or gender identity, their age or military service, their disability or where they grew up. Diversity is powerful and the moment we embrace and celebrate it, we make steps toward creating workplaces that resemble our users and our members. If you have gone through life without fear of being judged for your DNA, have been asked to leave a restaurant because you hold hands with someone of the same sex, sexually harassed or if you have been told to be silent because you are misinterpreting the actions of top performers, then consider yourself #blessed. Because countless people face these struggles, every single day. People are consistently being limited because of the box they check on a Self-Id form. This is reality. Our reality. Susan’s experience is reality. So stand up. Be an Ally. Fight for the Equality of All People.

I challenge Uber to do the following:

  • Take ownership and apologise
  • Complete an HR Audit with an external, non-board member, unbiased entity
  • Survey ALL employees – Seek to Understand
  • External communications that are not forced or requested to be sent out
  • Conduct Diversity All Hands. Give employees a channel to speak their mind, channel their thoughts and ask questions. We did a #BlackLivesMatter all hands at LinkedIn, and it was one of the powerful 2 hours of my career.
  • Listen
  • Develop & Invest in your D&I team
  • Invest in external partners
  • Define Diversity and Inclusion for Uber
  • View this as a massive learning opportunity for all of Uber’s E Staff
  • Talk about this OPENLY
  • Reach out and speak to D&I leaders

Again, thank you Susan for sharing your story. I hope that everyone finds their voice, and stands up for what is right. It takes a single person to change the entire game. It takes a single person to shed light on the social injustices of our systems and processes. Speak up. Be proud. And know that being Diverse should never isolate you. Be who you are. The world is a better place because of it. And always remember, no matter what others say, you Belong. As MLK once said, never lose hope.

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