Uber has suspended its chief diversity equity and inclusion officer for hurting employee sentiments by hosting an event titled ‘Don’t Call Me Karen’.
Bo Young Lee, who has been in the position for over five years, has reportedly faced backlash for hosting sessions about race and being a white woman that workers complained were insensitive to people of colour.
Last week, Lee was asked ‘to step back and take a leave of absence’ while the company determined the next steps, reported The New York Times, citing an email on from Nikki Krishnamurthy, Uber’s chief people officer.
‘We have heard that many of you are in pain and upset by yesterday’s Moving Forward session,’ said the email. ‘While it was meant to be a dialogue, it’s obvious that those who attended did not feel heard.’
The events in question were supposed to ‘dive into the spectrum of the American white woman’s experience’ and hear from white women who work at Uber, focusing on the ‘Karen’ persona.
The term Karen has taken on a slang that has become synonymous with the kind of woman – usually white and middle-aged – who is passive-aggressively judgmental, often racist (sometimes covertly so), and always ready to call the police or ask to speak to the manager.
Ironically, the name is often used to poke fun at women who use their white privilege and femininity to silence minorities and marginalised groups in public spaces.
According to internal messages viewed by The Times, Uber employees felt Lee was dismissive of their concerns that the events lectured them on the difficulties experienced by white women and why ‘Karen’ was a derogatory term.
Lee has led Uber’s diversity efforts since 2018 under the company’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Her Linkedin profile says before joining Uber, she held similar roles at financial services firm Marsh McLennan and other companies.
The Don’t Call Me Karen in April was part of a series called Moving Forward, where employees could discuss race and the experiences of underrepresented groups in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
During a company wide meeting, a Black woman asked how the company would prevent ‘tone-deaf, offensive and triggering conversations’ from becoming a part of its diversity initiatives.
Lee defended the Moving Forward series saying it was aimed at having tough conversations and not intended to be comfortable. However, according to the Slack messages and the employee, this comment did not go well with employees, who expressed outrage and complained to executives.
‘Sometimes being pushed out of your own strategic ignorance is the right thing to do,’ she said, according to an employee at the event.
Lee ran another event to discuss what was spoken in the first meeting.
In Slack groups for Black and Hispanic employees at Uber, workers complained that they were instead being lectured about their response to the initial Don’t Call Me Karen event.
‘I felt like I was being scolded for the entirety of that meeting,’ wrote one employee.
News of Lee’s absence has been welcome by employees who wrote that the company’s executives ‘have heard us, they know we are hurting, and they want to understand what all happened too.’
Uber has 32,800 employees worldwide. Of these, 12,400 are based outside of the United States.
In 2022, 46.5% of Uber’s US employees identified as Hispanic, Black, or Asian, and 38% of its employees were women.
Metro.co.uk has reached out to Uber for comment.
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