Leadership

Uber's Bozoma Saint John: This is the No. 1 way to address Silicon Valley's diversity issue

Bozoma Saint John is the Chief Brand Officer at Uber.
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Bozoma Saint John is the Chief Brand Officer at Uber.

The tech industry has been plagued for years with criticism over its lack of diversity. On Thursday, Uber's newly appointed chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John joined the dialogue on how to fix this issue at Recode's Code Commerce event in New York.

The No. 1 way to address this ongoing diversity issue, she says, is to simply hire more women.

"There just has to be more," Saint John tells Recode's Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan. "The numbers matter in this particular case. They really do."

Saint John remains one of the few black female C-suite executives in tech. In fact, according to an Uber diversity report, women in leadership account for 22 percent of the company's employee base.

In regards to race, the company's global workforce is predominantly white at 49.8 percent. Asian employees make up 30.9 percent, black workers make up 8.8 percent, Hispanics make up 5.6 percent and people who define themselves as multiracial come in at 4.3 percent.

Saint John, 40, says that no magical "Wizard of Oz" exists to fix this problem in Silicon Valley. Instead, the tech industry as a whole must open their doors to women, she says.

"That is step one," Saint John says. "I don't want to talk about anything else until we get more" women hired.

Saint John's resume boasts tenures at some of the most successful companies in the world. Upon graduation from Wesleyan University, she scored a position at Spike Lee's advertising agency, according to Glamour.

She then took a marketing job at Pepsi where she orchestrated the company's halftime show at the 2013 Super Bowl featuring Beyoncé. Saint John has also served as the global consumer marketing head at Apple Music and iTunes.

Last month, she announced that she will be joining the board of directors for Girls Who Code, a non-profit that works to inspire, educate and equip girls with computing skills.

The Uber exec notes that she feels "very much charged" to take on the issue of diversity, especially as a black woman who has had to face doubters and obstacles in her career.

In the interview with Glamour, Saint John recalls her struggle as a black woman in a top position, particularly when traveling. "Every time I board [business class], it's like, "Oh, are you sitting in the right seat?" I make sure to keep my boarding pass out just in case somebody has a question," she says.

"I wish I could be ideal and say, 'You know what, I should be seen just for what I do and who I am and you know, forget the labels,'" Saint John tells the Recode panel. "But that's not possible today."

She admits that as a black woman in a senior position, the bar is set higher for her because people assume that she was hired to fill a diversity quota rather than for her skills. However, Saint John says she refuses to be angry about continually having to prove her worth.

"I don't carry it as a burden because, otherwise, I can't do the work," she says. "I would just be the angry black woman and I'm not. I'm really good at my job."

She adds, "It's not about me coming in as a black woman to clean up [Uber's] mess. It's about me, Boz, having the talent and ability to actually do this work. And that's what I want to prove."

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See also:

Would you promote a woman if your bonus depended on it?

3 things companies can learn from Google's response to the anti-diversity memo

5 facts you may not know about Uber's new CEO pick