May 23, 2023

Uber’s DEI Chief Placed On Leave After ‘Don’t Call Me Karen’ Event Backlash

Uber’s Chief DEI Officer Bo Young Lee has been placed on a leave of absence following employee complaints about “Don’t Call Me Karen” events which aimed to explore the “spectrum of the American white woman’s experience.”

Concerns raised by Black and Hispanic employees prompted Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Chief People Officer Nikki Krishnamurthy to request Lee’s temporary step back while they assess the situation.

“We have heard that many of you are in pain and upset by yesterday’s Moving Forward session,” they wrote in an email seen by The New York Times. “While it was meant to be a dialogue, it’s obvious that those who attended did not feel heard.”

Tone-deaf, offensive and triggering

The events, part of Uber’s “Moving Forward” series launched after the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, were intended to foster discussions on race and underrepresented groups. However, employees felt that they were being lectured on the challenges faced by white women.

During an all-hands meeting, a Black woman employee asked how the company planned to prevent “tone-deaf, offensive and triggering conversations” from becoming a part of its diversity initiatives.

Lee’s response, that “sometimes being pushed out of your own strategic ignorance is the right thing to do,” further fueled employee outrage and complaints to company executives.

“I felt like I was being scolded

The term “Karen” has been used to call out white women who exhibit racist behavior. One infamous incident involved Amy Cooper, a white woman who falsely reported a Black man in Central Park, leading to widespread condemnation and her subsequent nickname, “Central Park Karen.”

The second “Don’t Call Me Karen” event was meant to facilitate dialogue, but Black and Hispanic employees expressed frustration and disappointment in internal Slack channels, ‘Los Ubers’ and ‘Black at Uber.’

“I felt like I was being scolded for the entirety of that meeting,” one employee wrote.

“I think when people are called Karens it’s implied that this is someone that has little empathy to others or is bothered by minorities others that don’t look like them. Like why can’t bad behavior not be called out?” said another.

Leave of absence

“I can confirm that Bo is currently on a leave of absence,” Noah Edwardsen, an Uber spokesperson, said in statement to the New York Times.

Bo Young Lee has been Uber’s DEI executive since May 2018 and has achieved notable milestones in implementing anti-racism strategies and promoting equity. Lee held similar roles at other companies before joining Uber.

The announcement of Lee’s leave of absence was seen by employees as a positive step. One employee wrote that the company’s executives “have heard us, they know we are hurting, and they want to understand what all happened too.”

Article Tags : , ,
Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)