Can Bozoma Saint John repair Uber's troubled image? – The Guardian


Bozoma Saint John stole the present at Apple’s annual developer convention in 2016, injecting some cool right into a sea of father-dancing throughout her presentation on the corporate’s music-streaming service.

Last month she joined Uber as the corporate’s first ever chief model officer, with a remit to “change the perception of the brand”. The firm is in determined want of a picture overhaul after months of allegations of poisonous work tradition, sexual harassment and a collection of excessive-profile government departures, together with dangerous-boy chief government Travis Kalanick.

Saint John has years of expertise honing the reputations of multinational corporations, however is shifting individuals’s perceptions of the experience-sharing firm a problem too far?

“It’s definitely a move in the right direction,” stated Adriana Gascoigne, CEO of Girls in Tech. “Saint John would provide incredible value at any tech company she joins because she has a stellar background.”

Saint John’s appointment at Uber makes her one thing of a unicorn in Silicon Valley: she’s one among a handful of black feminine C-degree executives in tech, which in itself sends a message that Uber needs to shift away from its fame as a misogynistic frat home.

“To me, there’s no sense of tokenism because I know I can do the job – I’m qualified to do the job, I can do a great job,” she advised the New York Times. “Being present as a black woman – just present – is enough to help exact some of the change that is needed and some that we’re looking for.”

Saint John was born in Ghana, however her household left when she was 5 to hunt political asylum within the United States. After graduating from Wesleyan University, she took a job at Spike Lee’s promoting company, the place she cast a relationship with Beyoncé that ultimately led to her inking a number of promotional offers between Pepsi and the singer. These included a $50m deal to sponsor Beyoncé’s 2012 tour and 2013 Super Bowl halftime efficiency.

Bozoma Saint John at WWDC in 2016.

Shortly afterwards her husband Peter died from most cancers. She and her daughter relocated from New York to Los Angeles, the place she began a brand new position and recent chapter of her life at Beats, the headphone startup based by Dr Dre and document producer Jimmy Iovine.

Four months later she turned an Apple worker after the tech big acquired Beats for $3bn. She climbed the ranks to grow to be international head of selling for Apple Music and iTunes.

While Saint John is a extremely expert marketer, Uber’s troubles run deep.

“Uber is feeling the dramatic effects of HR negligence. This deficit has slowly chipped away at the core values of the company so that tech workers no longer want to work there, and drivers think twice about driving for Uber,” Gascoigne stated.

It might be very troublesome to repair Uber’s model picture with out altering the tradition first, added Bay Area communications veteran Ed Zitron.

“Marketing is usually an outward facing job, so she’s not in a position where her direct remit is making sure the culture changes,” he stated.

That requires widespread modifications to administration and hiring practices, led from the very prime. Uber, valued at $69bn, has pledged to do that, beneath the steerage of board member Arianna Huffington, who has emerged as the general public voice for addressing Uber’s litany of scandals. One of Huffington’s achievements has been to lure executives like Saint John.

“I profoundly believe that because real change rarely happens without a catalyst and a crisis, from the crucible of the last few months, a new Uber will emerge fueled by empathy, collaboration and putting people first,” stated Huffington at an all-employees assembly in June.

However, the corporate has but to nominate a brand new CEO, and there are a number of different management vacancies that want filling. Saint John should work with the remainder of the C-suite to deal with poor administration and hiring practices and embed these new values all through the 12,000-strong workforce and company construction.

According to Uber’s variety report, launched in March, ladies account for 22% of management positions on the firm. From a race perspective, the workforce is predominantly white (49.eight%), with 30.9% Asian, eight.eight% black, 5.6% hispanic and four.three% multiracial staff.

At the identical time it launched the report, Uber pledged $3m over three years to help organizations working to deliver ladies and underrepresented teams into tech, though it’s not but clear how this cash will probably be spent.

“We’re committed to making Uber a great place to work, no matter where you come from,” stated the corporate.

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