Uber has placed on leave its chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion officer Bo Young Lee, the ride-sharing company confirmed to the New York Times after the outlet made public internal employee messages criticizing the Korean-American executive.
“I can confirm that Bo is currently on a leave of absence,” Uber spokesman Noah Edwardsen said in a statement on Sunday.
According to the Times, Bo was suspended after backlash over a staff meeting dubbed “Don’t Call Me Karen,” focused on the exploration of the “American white woman’s experience.” The session happened at some point last month, as part of Uber’s “Moving Forward” diversity initiative.
The outlet cited several messages from the “Black at Uber” and “Los Ubers” channels in the corporate messaging program Slack, where black and Latino employees complained about feeling “scolded” and how describing the term “Karen” as hurtful minimized racism and “harm white people can inflict on people of color.”
One employee wrote that the term implies “that this is someone that has little empathy to others or is bothered by minorities others [sic] that don’t look like them.”
During an all-hands meeting last Wednesday, a female black employee asked Bo what can be done to exclude “tone-deaf, offensive and triggering conversations” from diversity sessions. The DEI executive responded by saying that “sometimes being pushed out of your own strategic ignorance is the right thing to do,” according to one employee’s notes cited by the Times.
On Thursday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Chief People Officer Nikki Krishnamurthy sent out an email saying they had asked Bo, who had been with the company since 2018, “to step back and take a leave of absence while we determine next steps.”
“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 Times did not make clear whether the employees involved in the diversity drama were drivers or staff at the company’s San Francisco, California headquarters. The HQ employs about 3,500 people out of Uber’s 33,000 total – while the 3.9 million drivers around the world are counted as part-time independent contractors.
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