Uber’s Bozoma Saint John: If our brand can change its culture, others can too

Saint John joined Uber from Apple back in June

Uber’s chief brand officer, Bozoma Saint John, has addressed the ride-hailing app’s freshly-unveiled set of ‘cultural values’, saying that if the troubled company can raise its standards then others can too.

Speaking at Dreamforce's Equality Summit, the marketer offered her take on the company’s new guidelines for staff - which include a commitment to “do the right thing” and “celebrate differences”, saying: “We’re setting the bar so that if this company at this time can correct the things that are going wrong then there’s no excuse for anyone else, zero excuses, I don’t want to hear them."

She added: “As we continue to change the norms and values by which people work, I want to see that reflected elsewhere. We’ve got to point the mirror back at everyone else and say: ‘hey what do your values look like?’ because if we’re able to evolve and change then so should everyone else.”

Uber's recently-appointed chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, unveiled the guidelines on Tuesday (7 November) in an attempt to salvage the brand's reputation following a year marred with sexual harassment claims against execs, legal problems, allegations from drivers around working conditions and the departure of longstanding chief executive and co-founder Travis Kalanick.

Saint John joined Uber from Apple back in June. At the time, she said she was aware of the challenges that lay ahead in rebuilding brand perception, but said she believed it was "a really exciting time to tell the story well."

As she joined, the firm was facing a number challenges around its public image, not least a slew of high-profile firings on the back of an internal investigation into allegations that Uber’s human-resources team systematically ignored a female engineer’s reports of sexual harassment and discrimination during the year she worked for the company.

The claims made by ex-employee Susan Fowler opened a can of worms for the brand, which was forced to let go of more than 20 employees following its own probe into what was described by former staff as a “culture of sexism”.

While Saint John did not comment directly on previous reports, she did take an opportunity during the panel discussion to talk about the #MeToo movement, during which millions of women have shared their own experiences about sexual harassment and assault in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Rubbishing the idea that any woman in any industry should have to quit their role to escape predatory behavior, she said: "This idea about having to quit, I just can’t stand it. It’s part of the reason that I’m sitting in this seat at Uber now, I refuse to run; if an environment is not conducive to me being black and being a woman then I want to change that environment, I don’t want to have to quit."

She continued: "I think at this point we have to have a zero tolerance policy on that idea, I want to change that environment so we don’t have to go. Why shouldn’t [women] be able to experience these environments? We should be able to advance our careers and feel like we’re productive and appreciated in these jobs without having to fear that we’re going to be without one because someone comes after us."

Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

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