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Uber Gains 2 Female Leaders: Apple's Bozoma Saint John, Harvard Professor Frances Frei

7 June 2017, 6:38 am EDT By Carl Velasco Tech Times
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Uber, which has been accused of fostering a hostile environment for women, is hiring two female executives to its workforce and lending them prominent roles. The move is twofold — a way to fill the void left by recent departures, and to increase employee diversity.

Uber Adds Two Women Executives To Its Workforce

One of those women is Bozoma Saint John, who led an Apple Music demo during last year's WWDC to some acclaim. News of her departure surfaced ahead of this year's WWDC, but what company she's moving to was then unclear.

Frances Frei, a Harvard Business School professor, is the other woman also joining Uber, serving as the company's senior VP for leadership and strategy. She will report directly to Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick.

Bozoma Saint John As Uber's Chief Brand Officer

Saint John will join Uber as the company's first chief brand officer, which makes sense because of her track record in marketing.

"[Bozoma] has a long track record of successfully creating emotional connections between people and the products they love," said Kalanick in an emailed statement. "Her creativity and deep understanding of consumers will allow us to build the same love and appreciation for Uber's brand as we've built for Uber's service."

Saint John will be Uber's highest-ranking black executive. She joined Apple in 2014 to lead the global consumer marketing for iTunes and Beats Music. Previously, she worked as the head of music and entertainment marketing at Pepsi.

"The beauty of a new role is sort of [my ability to] define it," Saint John told Recode.

But Saint John knows Uber is in a tough situation.

"I know what I'm walking into," she said. "I think it's a really exciting time to tell the story well. Certainly there have been lots of things that have been swirling around [about] Uber but I'm interested in telling the story about the service and what is happening from the brand standpoint."

Frances Frei As Uber's Senior Vice President For Leadership And Strategy

As for Frei, taking the senior VP for leadership and strategy position will be a tall order, especially that Uber is now facing a lot of criticism for its workplace practices, chief of them being the alarming reports of sexism toward female employees.

Uber's diversity woes are right up Frei's alley, since she has focused on diversity and gender problems in the workplace. What's more, she's no stranger to Uber, having consulted with them for several months now. Frei said she was enticed to go full-time because of the many challenges the company is facing at present.

"My goal is to make this a world-class company that can be proud of itself in the end, rather than embarrassed," Frei told Recode. That embarrassment is likely due this week, when parts of an investigation report delivered last week to Arianna Huffington, Bill Gurley, and David Bonderman — all part of a subcommittee of the board — goes public, at least to employees.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran have been conducting an investigation on Uber's internal culture after reports of sexual harassment hit the web like wildfire.

Will This Save Uber's Workplace Issues

Hiring Saint John and Frei is strategic: the former will work on Uber's branding and image, the latter will work on its internal culture. The work of both will lead to a clean-up of Uber's problems inside and out.

Of course, there's no telling if both women can calm down Uber's highly controversial culture problem on their own. When Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, detailed the instances of sexism inside the company, the outcry was loud, prompting a second life to the "#DeleteUber" campaign.

But while the sexism issue are serious, it stems only from Uber's "Game of Thrones" style internal culture, as Recode notes, in which employees openly sabotage one another for a leg up inside the workplace. Even now, it's clear enough: Uber needs a drastic culture overhaul, not only to clear sexist behavior, but to get rid of aggressive corporate politics, as well.

Those aside, even with Saint John and Frei moving into Uber's turf, the company is still in need of a chief operating officer, in addition to a head of finance, growth, engineering, and policy and communications — since everyone who filled these roles have left Uber in the past few months.

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