Uber has had a history of controversy regarding diversity and workplace culture.
The ride-hailing company has been accused by former employees of having an inappropriate workplace atmosphere, and in June of last year, it fired 20 employees as part of an investigation into sexual harassment at its workplace.
But Uber has been trying to reshape that narrative under new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who promised to change Uber’s culture after being hired in August.
At an unofficial South by Southwest conference event Friday, Uber’s effort was on display at a gathering in partnership with Walmart that brought women working in tech together to discuss their careers and challenges of getting into the industry.
Emily Duff-Bartel, senior project manager for Uber’s self-driving car division, said the event was a way for Uber to promote its efforts at inclusion and for women in tech to be able to ask questions about the challenges and triumphs of other women in tech.
Uber has a division named “Women of Uber” that offers mentors and other support services for women in the company, Duff-Bartel said.
“Everybody is here really to make a difference and to change the conversation and to change the culture,” Duff-Bartel said. “If we’re all in it together, then it starts becoming less of, ‘oh, this is a diversity conversation,” and more like, ‘this is just how you represent yourself in the workplace.’
“Starting and continuing the conversation is really the big thing.”
The challenges facing women in the tech industry have been well documented. A study from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for example, used workforce data from 2014 to report that at the top 75 Silicon Valley tech companies, women make up only 30 percent of the workforce. An American-Statesman survey of 2,600 local tech workers taken last year showed women’s median salaries were an average of $25,000 less than men.
At Friday’s event, panel discussions featured Duff-Bartel, Paula Nguyen, a project specialist at Walmart, Lauren Golembiewski, CEO at Voxable, which has built tech for Amazon’s Echo smart speaker, and Tricia Katz, a software engineer at fashion company Outdoor Voices.
Katz, who said she’s often worked on all-male teams, said events like Her Success Code can help motivate women pursuing tech jobs and show them what’s possible.
“This can show women that there are resources out there if they get stuck along the way,” Katz said. “One of the other challenges we have is not only getting women in tech but keeping them in tech. For women to see other women in this space who have evolved in this space ... is important.”
In attendance Friday was Jean Njorage, a data scientist who said she moved from New York in January because she wants to become a part of Austin’s evolving tech scene.
Njorage said given Uber’s past problems with workplace culture, it was important for the company to have this event during such a notable conference like SXSW.
“It’s something Uber should be doing to help correct past mistakes. It’s something every company should be doing,” Njorage said. “The more we can discuss women in tech and how to get them included, and the challenges in how to get them in, the better.”