How Uber put an end to internal ‘name-calling and finger-pointing’

“I admit that when I first started at Uber, I was a little bit of a believer of everything I heard in the media. That it was just complete chaos, complete disarray. That there are people screaming about the inequality that was going on within the organization,” Young Lee said at the CNBC event in Washington D.C. “We were in such a hyperpolarized state as an organization at that point in time.”

Her first step: “Listen, learn and figure out what was going on.”

“I didn’t start in by saying here’s what we have to do from a diversity pipeline perspective,” Young Lee said.

She had to calm the organization and “let them know there’s leadership and commitment here and we’re investing for long haul. We didn’t have to quiet the organization, but we had to calm them quite a bit,” she said.

She added that it was also important to demonstrate what leadership commitment looks like.

At Uber, she said, “people felt they had to scream and shout from the rooftops constantly. The constant rise in the voices were based on the fear that “unless we pound this drum continuously, we’re going to forget about this in four months, in two months, in three months, in a year. That this is just a flavor-of-the-month type of event. But when I came in and started speaking with Dara [Khosrowshahi, Uber CEO ] and our leadership, I said what this organization needs is to hear your authentic commitment, and that’s when people are going to know that they can come and really maturely sit around the table and look for solutions.”

Although Young Lee has not yet even marked her one-year anniversary, she says Uber’s culture is moving in the right direction. “People are coming up to me and saying the conversation has materially changed. That wasn’t happening before, because people were still yelling at each other for such a long period of time.”

But this is just the start of what Young Lee sees as an ongoing process. “You don’t see diversity change in a month, in two months, in six months. You see it in a year, you see it in two years, in five years. That’s how it works. It’s a long game, and very few companies are in it for the long game. That’s what we mean by intentional leadership. Our leaders have to communicate ‘I’m in it for the long game, and I won’t stop looking at this.'”

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