Earlier this year, in the midst of a series of corporate crises, Uber pledged to donate $3 million over the next three years to support organizations working to diversify tech.
In late August, the company made headlines for its $1.2 million grant to Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that aims to bring more women into tech. In addition to the grant, it was announced that Uber's newly appointed chief brand officer, Bozoma Saint John, would join its board of directors.
While the announcement received some positive feedback, other tech leaders, including Black Girls Code (BGC) CEO Kimberly Bryant, took issue with how Uber chose to distribute its diversity-focused funds.
Since 2011, BGC has been working to increase the number of women of color in tech by empowering girls ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM. When Uber purchased office space in the Oakland area last year, Bryant tells CNBC Make It that she and her team were contacted by the tech company because they were looking to partner with local organizations that were working to help close the industry's diversity gap.
"Our first meeting with Uber was in late 2016," Bryant says. "After that meeting we talked to them off and on for the first half of this year, especially when they hired a new diversity manager and really put together this pool of what they were going to donate to diversity and inclusion organizations."
Bryant says Uber representatives told her via phone last month that they wanted to provide BGC with a $125,000 grant from the $3 million pool — a tenth of the amount offered to Girls Who Code. Despite months of relationship building, Bryant politely declined.
"What I shared with the diversity team is I feel Uber issues are intersectional," says Bryant. "So yes, there are issues with gender but there are also certain inequitable practices with people of color. So I think for me, I wanted to have seen a more equitable distribution of funds and a focus of more support for Oakland and the community who stepped to the table and had conversations with them when they decided to move here."
An Uber spokesperson tells CNBC Make It that selections were based on employee suggestions and the organizations' track records for working to make a difference in STEM. It plans to announce more donations in the future.
Bryant referred to the grant offered to BGC as "an insincere effort to change the needle specifically around gender and racial inclusion," and said while she had no regrets about declining the offer, she knew she and her team had a lot of work to do to earn that money in other ways.
After hearing news of BGC's decision to turn down the grant, long-time supporter Kristy Tillman, who heads up communication design at Slack, decided she had to do something to help the organization raise the money.
"Someone retweeted the news story on my Twitter timeline," Tillman explains. "I opened the link, read it and thought immediately that there was no way we should allow Black Girls Code to go without the $125,000."
To help spread the word, Tillman tweeted a picture of her $1,000 donation to BGC and encouraged her followers to follow up with their own donations.
"I was really bothered by the large discrepancy in the amounts the other organizations were offered relative to the amount Black Girls Code was offered," says Tillman. "I have no insight into Uber's decision-making process, and I realize what is reported in the press is not always the full story, but the optics of an organization that serves young Black girls being offered the least amount of money by an order of magnitude was upsetting, and I felt like they shouldn't be robbed twice — having to turn down the money and being offered the least amount."
Since Tillman's tweet, Bryant says BGC has raised about $153,000 in addition to another $10,000 to $15,000 from companies like Google and Salesforce, which are matching employee donations. Tillman says Slack's CEO Stewart Butterfield has also shown his support by donating.
While Bryant's decision may have shocked some, she says she hopes people understand that the issue goes beyond the actions of one company.
"One of the biggest lessons that we hope to model for several folks, including some of the young women of color who come to me, is the value of understanding your worth, standing up and demanding the best for yourself and not taking less."
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