Uber’s chief brand officer vows to be more transparent about inner workings

Bozoma Saint John

Uber’s chief brand officer has vowed that the company will be more transparent about the products it’s working on as well as what it’s doing to improve its culture as it continues to try and repair the damage done over the past year.

“We want transparency in leadership and the way products are made. That's one of the solutions of one of the big problems in Uber right now,” said Bozoma Saint John at the SXSW festival today (12 March).

Saint John joined Uber last June, just days after the resignation of chief executive Travis Kalanick. His exit came on the back of a slew of problems at the company, including claims that its human-resources team systematically ignored a female engineer’s reports of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Add to this a politically charged #deleteuber campaign which lost it hundreds of thousands of users, a $2.6bn lawsuit from Google alleging it stole trade secrets, and the exit of several key executives, it’s little wonder Saint John described Uber as the “poster child” for a brand in crisis.

To regain trust in the brand, Saint John said she is planning to let people in to Uber’s “inner workings", an unusual tactic from a Silicon Valley tech giant.

“It's about transparency. Everyone is going to be skeptical if they don't know what's happening. It's about communicating what we're doing in a way that people understand," she said.

She didn't go into detail about what this looks like but her plan could span everything from the kind of products it’s developing to the steps it’s taking to improve the company culture.

“Did you make a mistake? Did you learn from it? Will you repeat it? What I'm trying to do is communicate all those things. So there are mistakes. Certainly. They should be corrected and we should tell that story,” she added.

“There are great innovations happening; we should tell those stories. There are great people in the brand; we should tell those stories.”

Despite Uber being overwhelmingly white, and male, as per the findings of its first diversity report released last year, Saint John said being a black woman in the company was “great” and that she has no fear over the pressure it’s under to improve the “dismal” statistics.

But speaking on the tech industry’s wider diversity issues she lamented that it’s still, by and large, people of colour who are demanding change.

“Everyone else needs to make the noise; white men need to make the noise. It makes me so angry. Why do I as the black woman have to come and fix it? It makes no sense.”

Saint John said her approach at Uber has been to get people to put the same level of importance on developing culture as they do on products.

“The product pipeline and plan is as important as the cultural one. What does the company look like, how do people feel, and does it reflect the kind of audience that you want to encounter? And if it doesn't, put a plan against that,” she said.

As she nears the first year of employment at the company, Saint John claimed the feeling among employees now is “much more hopeful” than it was when she joined.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.