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A powerful group of black lawmakers is pressuring Uber to hire more diverse executives

A long list of openings means the company has an opportunity to improve its hiring practices.

Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Cedric Richmond
Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Cedric Richmond
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

A group of powerful black lawmakers in the U.S. Congress is pushing Uber to hire more people of color, as the ride-hailing company labors to fill a growing list of vacant leadership positions.

In the eyes of the Congressional Black Caucus, the inner turmoil at Uber — including the departure of the company’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, last week — means it has ample opportunity to improve the diversity of its workforce, which like many tech giants in Silicon Valley remains predominately white and male.

The CBC plans to send a letter to Uber on Monday, asking the company’s chairman and co-founder, Garrett Camp, to detail the steps he is taking to ensure that Uber is considering black candidates for senior jobs, according to a copy of the missive shared early with Recode.

“Uber has a unique opportunity to elevate their stated commitment to diversity by hiring a person of color for a C-suite level position, and appointing a board member of color,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), one of the leaders of the CBC’s team focused on diversity in the tech industry, in a statement this weekend.

Lee’s co-chair in that effort, North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield, even suggested to Recode that greater scrutiny — and, potentially, more political pressure — could follow if Uber and others in the tech industry don’t address their well-known diversity woes.

"If tech does not make true diversity and inclusion a priority at all levels of their companies then diminished competitiveness, employee lawsuits and increased scrutiny from the government will continue to be the result,” the Democratic lawmaker said.

In their letter, the CBC specifically highlighted that Uber lacks a chief operating officer, chief financial officer, chief marketing officer and general counsel, not to mention a chief executive — all spots, the lawmakers said, that would “benefit from African American leadership.”

So would Uber’s ever-thinning board of directors, according to the CBC, seeing as there are no black members serving in an oversight capacity, either.

This year, at least, Uber has hired two high-profile women for key leadership roles — Francis Frei, its new senior vice president of leadership and culture, and Bozoma Saint John, who now serves as chief brand officer.

But the company’s tech-focused workforce is still 50 percent white, while only 9 percent of its workers are black, according to data that Uber released in March. The ride-hailing app previously had refused to release its hiring information, but it relented as lawyers began to investigate its workplace practices — including charges of rampant sexism levied by a former engineer, Susan Fowler, that later resulted in the ouster of many employees.

(Update: 9:11 am ET) Asked about the letter, a spokesman for Uber told Recode the company is “committed to making Uber a more diverse and inclusive workplace at all levels of the organization, and we'll continue to engage with community leaders like the CBC as we work to achieve this important goal."

Uber is hardly the only tech company with a troubling hiring record. In fact, the CBC launched an entire campaign in 2015 to force more of Silicon Valley’s leading brands to attract, recruit, hire and retain black workers. Lawmakers have since taken their concerns straight to the leaders of Apple, Facebook and Google, and at times, their efforts have come with sharp public rebukes — including a 2016 campaign to get Airbnb to address allegations of discrimination by its housing hosts.

During the Obama administration, the CBC also sought to force tech companies pursuing large federal contracts to adhere to affirmative action policies. And they pushed a number of bills that would have improved science, tech, engineering and math programs and support for minority students, though many failed to advance through Congress.

The CBC has previously set its sights on Uber: In November, lawmakers demanded the company and its top competitor, Lyft, “address the issues of racism and discrimination” reported by many of its black riders.

The Congressional Black Caucus said in its Monday letter that they have remained “vigilant” about Uber’s corporate behavior and its treatment of minorities.

“Among the tech industry, Uber is not alone in its need to improve hiring, retention, promotion, and inclusion of African Americans,” the CBC wrote. “However, as a company that seeks to ‘create possibilities for riders, drivers, and cities,’ we encourage you to use this moment to emerge as a leader on diversity and inclusion and set a standard that your peers should emulate.”

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