During an interview at the SXSW festival on Sunday, Uber's chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John called "bullshit" on the idea that Silicon Valley is plagued with pipeline issues — an oft-quoted reason for why companies are lagging behind on diversity.
Tech apologisers have long blamed a lack of diversity among employees and executives on a bone-dry well of people options. Drivers of change have countered that expectations of what techies should be like, what backgrounds they're supposed have, and how hostile their work environment is are the real systemic problems.
As Saint John indicates, if gatekeepers are the impediment to change, not the people knocking to get in, the onus to make a difference should be distributed more realistically.
"Why do I — as the black woman — have to fix that?" she asked during the conference. "There's 50 of you, there's one of me. I want white men to make the noise."
Saint John's candour is more than welcome. These days, nearly every company or organisation embroiled in a scandal or lawsuit tied to discrimination charges one person with diversity and inclusion efforts. And nothing reveals a lack of commitment more than dumping all of that work on a lone, often tokenised, individual.
In her role as Uber's chief brand officer, Saint John is certainly tasked with rehabbing the company's reputation among consumers and business peers. But juggling legal matters, employee grievances, reworking old hiring practices, and ensuring retention among already alienated employees is hard work that shouldn't be undertaken alone.
As Saint John added, "It's not up to one company — it's up to the entire industry to make sure that we are moving the conversation forward."