Posted on May 23, 2023

Uber’s Diversity Chief Put on Leave After Complaints of Insensitivity

Kellen Browning, New York Times, May 21, 2023

Uber has placed its longtime head of diversity, equity and inclusion on leave after workers complained that an employee event she moderated, titled “Don’t Call Me Karen,” was insensitive to people of color.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, and Nikki Krishnamurthy, the chief people officer, last week asked Bo Young Lee, the head of diversity, “to step back and take a leave of absence while we determine next steps,” according to an email on Thursday from Ms. Krishnamurthy to some employees that was viewed by The New York Times.


Employees’ concerns centered on a pair of events, one last month and another last Wednesday, that were billed as “diving into the spectrum of the American white woman’s experience” and hearing from white women who work at Uber, with a focus on “the ‘Karen’ persona.” {snip}

But workers instead felt that they were being lectured on the difficulties experienced by white women and why “Karen” was a derogatory term and that Ms. Lee was dismissive of their concerns, according to messages sent on Slack {snip}

The term Karen has become slang for a white woman with a sense of entitlement who often complains to a manager and reports Black people and other racial minorities to the authorities. {snip}


The first of the two Don’t Call Me Karen events, in April, was part of a series called Moving Forward — discussions about race and the experiences of underrepresented groups that sprung up in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

Several weeks after that first event, a Black woman asked during an Uber all-hands meeting how the company would prevent “tone-deaf, offensive and triggering conversations” from becoming a part of its diversity initiatives.

Ms. Lee fielded the question, arguing that the Moving Forward series was aimed at having tough conversations and not intended to be comfortable.

“Sometimes being pushed out of your own strategic ignorance is the right thing to do,” she said, according to notes taken by an employee who attended the event. The comment prompted more employee outrage and complaints to executives, according to the Slack messages and the employee.

The second of the two events, run by Ms. Lee, was intended to be a dialogue where workers discussed what they had heard in the earlier meeting.

But in Slack groups for Black and Hispanic employees at Uber, workers fumed that instead of a chance to provide feedback or have a dialogue, they were instead being lectured about their response to the initial Don’t Call Me Karen event.