Uber recently suspended its chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for hosting a "Don't Call Me Karen" panel on May 17 that was intended to "dive into the spectrum of the American white woman's experience." The company's employees blasted the panel for being "more of a lecture" that "scolded" them.
DEI chief Bo Young Lee was hired by Uber in 2018, the New York Post reported. She reportedly organized an event last month called "Moving Forward: Don't Call Me Karen." The panel was set to be a part of Uber's "Moving Forward" event series, which kicked off in 2020 following the Black Lives Matter protests, and was described as "an open and honest conversation about race," according to a screenshot of the event's advertisement that was leaked on social media.
"We will be diving into the spectrum of the American white woman's experience from some of our female colleagues, particularly how they navigate around the 'Karen' persona," the event advertisement stated.
Internal staff communication from Uber's Slack channels, shared with the New York Times and posted on Twitter, revealed that many Uber employees were offended and even outraged about the event.
Employees stated that while the panel was described as a "dialogue session," Lee failed to address their questions.
The Times reported that Lee avoided addressing employees' concerns about how the company planned to prevent "tone-deaf, offensive and triggering conversations" moving forward.
One employee wrote, "It was more of a lecture - I felt like I was being scolded for the entirety of that meeting."
Another staff member replied, "I just don't even understand the premise of the meeting. I think when people are called Karen's its [sic] implied that it is someone that has little empathy to others or is bothered by minorities others [sic] that don't look like them. Like why can't bad behavior not be called out?"
A third Uber employee expressed dissatisfaction with the company's handling of the situation.
"It's very disheartening to work for a company that takes such public stands on matters yet when there is an in-house issue people are quieted and told to calm down," the employee stated.
Uber's chief people officer, Nikki Krishnamurthy, who was a part of the panel, sent an email to employees on May 18, noting that Lee had been asked "to step back and take a leave of absence while we determine next steps."
"We have heard that many of you are in pain and upset by yesterday's Moving Forward session," Krishnamurthy wrote. "While it was meant to be a dialogue, it's obvious that those who attended did not feel heard."
Krishnamurthy concluded the email by thanking workers for their "professionalism and patience as we work through this."
Uber confirmed to the Post on Monday that Lee is still on a leave of absence, but declined to comment further on the matter.
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