With few Black and Hispanic executives, Lyft and Uber face long road to hailing a racially diverse workforce
Ride-hailing companies Lyft and Uber face a long road in creating more racial equity at the top of their organizations, a new USA TODAY analysis shows.
A snapshot of leadership at both companies illustrates their ongoing struggle to boost the number of African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, who are sharply underrepresented in nearly every part of the technology industry except in administrative roles.
Lyft has made progress in bringing aboard Black executives, surpassing rival Uber and its Big Tech counterparts, according to 2018 figures, the most recent government data available.
Six out of 49, or 12%, of senior leaders at the company – individuals within two reporting levels of the CEO – are Black, compared with 3% of senior leadership at Facebook, 3.4% at Google and 2.4% at Uber.
But Lyft had no Hispanics or Latinos in senior leadership roles in 2018, a major deficit for a company headquartered in California, where 39.4% of the population is Hispanic or Latino. And all four current executives named in the company’s most recent public filing, including founders Logan Green and John Zimmer, are white.
What’s more, Lyft and Uber employees of color mainly occupy lower-level roles, the analysis showed. Nearly 57% of Hispanic or Latino employees and 65% of Black employees at Lyft work in administrative support roles. At Uber, half of Hispanic or Latino employees and 65% of Black employees work in administrative support.
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“This was a hard year for Black and Brown Americans, and an important time of self-reflection for all of us," Green, Lyft’s CEO, and John Zimmer, its president, said in the most recent diversity report released Tuesday and provided exclusively to USA TODAY. "As two white founders, we feel a deep commitment to our inclusion and diversity efforts – it is our responsibility to listen and lead with humility, and most importantly to take action.”
Uber, Lyft becoming economic force
The demographic make-up of gig economy leadership is becoming increasingly important as Uber and Lyft emerge as a powerful economic force whose policies can shape lives and livelihoods.
In November, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 22, a ballot measure backed by Uber, Lyft and delivery service DoorDash that makes gig economy companies exempt from a state labor law that would have forced them to employ drivers and pay for their benefits rather than treat them as independent contractors.
Monica Poindexter, Lyft’s head of inclusion and diversity and employee relations, told USA TODAY that the company has made progress in bringing greater representation to its executive ranks.
Nilka Thomas, who is Black, rejoined Lyft in September as its chief people officer, reporting to Zimmer. Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett joined the company's board in 2017 and the following year Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation in the Obama administration, became Lyft’s policy chief and adviser to the two founders.
Lyft has also launched a number of initiatives that provide a “solid foundation” to attract more entry-level employees of color, Poindexter said.
"We know we must always work to do better and remain laser focused on becoming an anti-racist company and a champion for equity," Uber said in an emailed statement.
Ride-hailing companies look like rest of tech
Lyft and Uber are not alone. In an industry in which power is concentrated in the hands of mostly white men, tech companies have struggled to increase representation of African Americans or Hispanics and Latinos.
In 2014, the major companies openly acknowledged tech’s race problem for the first time, disclosing how few women and people of color they each employed. They pledged to make workforces less homogeneous and corporate culture more equitable and inclusive. Yet, despite growing pressure from employees, lawmakers and shareholders and billions in diversity spending, the needle has barely budged.
This month, Google’s dismissal of a top artificial intelligence researcher vocal about the company’s failures to address the lack of diversity in its workforce drew sharp new scrutiny of its treatment of Black employees, particularly women.
Pinterest this week said it paid $20 million to settle a gender discrimination suit brought by its former chief operating officer Francoise Brougher, with an additional $2.5 million earmarked for programs that increase representation in the tech industry.
Brougher was encouraged to come forward after two Black employees who worked in public policy, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, went public with discrimination claims. Pinterest said its investigation found no wrongdoing.
“We understand the issues of the tech industry and we are doing everything we can to overcome them,” Heather Foster, Lyft’s senior director of public engagement and strategic partnerships, told USA TODAY.
Blacks, Hispanics and Latinos missing in technical roles
The USA TODAY analysis showed that 55 managers out of 755 at Lyft are Black, or 7%. At Uber, 5% of managers – 84 out of 1,704 – are Black.
Nearly 7% of management roles – 51 out of 755 – at Lyft are held by Hispanics or Latinos, compared with 5.5% at Uber.
But in technical roles Lyft and Uber stumbled. According to numbers provided by Lyft, 2.1% of Black employees worked in technical roles this year, a slight decline from 2019. The company says it had 1.1% Black tech leaders in 2020. It had none in 2019.
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Hispanics and Latinos in technical roles rose slightly to 5.5%. And Lyft said 6.5% of its tech leadership was Hispanic or Latino, nearly double 2019.
The coronavirus ravaged the ride-hailing business in 2020, slicing into Lyft’s revenue and forcing the company to lay off 17% of its staff and wipe out nearly 1,000 jobs in April. Though the company says it did not meet its diversity hiring goals for 2020, it says it prevented “disproportionate impacts” on women, Black and Hispanic and Latino employees.
Poindexter declined to provide specifics on Lyft's hiring goals, past or present, but said the company would remain focused on racial equity in 2021.
In addition, Lyft formed partnerships with more than 675 organizations to aid communities of color disproportionately affected by the pandemic with 1.5 million free or discounted bike, scooter or car rides over the next five years, Foster said.