From Harlem With Love: A Letter To Uber

uberFrom Harlem With Love: A Letter To Uber

April 27, 2015

Given my expertise in diversity and strong desire to see significant improvements in the tech sector regarding diversity, I have been closely following the discussion about diversity in Silicon Valley.  There is great need for improvement given the industry’s track record.  I recently wrote about this issue in my article “Homogeniuses: HBO’s “Silicon Valley” Mirrors Tech Industry’s Diversity Realities” which sites statistics and data on the industry.

As much as we need to move the needle on this issue, it does not help improve diversity more broadly or signal a strong desire to increase diversity in the workplace when companies elect to discriminate with the various promotions they offer customers.  Last week, I saw a rapidly growing tech company do just that by discriminating against geographic regions that have large numbers of minorities.  This reminds me of the days of restrictive covenants.

What Uber did on April 23rd says a lot about their overall mindset.  It leaves me to conclude that this mindset could also filter into their hiring practices and their overall approach to running their business.  If they had a more diverse workforce, someone may have stopped them from making a big blunder.

So what happened?  On April 23rd, I went to NY Tech Day.  It was a great event.  It brought together thousands of people – tech companies, start-ups, and people wanting to network with them.

However, I was very disappointed to see how Uber is trying to grow its business and market its services.  Uber was offering a promotion for discounted rides in Manhattan.  Essentially, you could get a ride anywhere in Manhattan as long as you were not going north of 125th Street.  For those less familiar with New York’s geography, 125th Street is in Harlem.  The region above 125th Street is primarily black, Latino, and working class.  Currently, this area is going through massive gentrification.  This area is changing quickly, but for now it is mainly populated by minorities.

In the photo, you can see the promotion card that geographically restricts the offer.  I was so deeply offended by this that I tweeted about it.  My goal is to get Uber to think more inclusively and not exclude people.

As Uber wants to grow its business, it should not do so by circumventing the City of New York’s anti-discrimination rules and guidelines regarding transportation throughout NYC. They did just that with this promotion.

People of color already have to deal with issues hailing taxis.  They do not need to also deal with being ineligible for discounted rates if they want to travel to “the black and Latino part of town.”

I strongly encourage Uber to become a part of the solution and not perpetuate problems from a bygone era.  Otherwise, they may signal that they are out of touch with their customer base and are fine alienating people.

By Fatimah Gilliam

Founder & CEO of The Azara Group 

Author: HarlemGuy