Feminism & Uber: A Quick Chat with Amy Kunrojpanya
We celebrated International Women’s Day 2018 yesterday, on the 8th of March. Yet, this particular year, the celebration feels particularly cogent given the current divisive social and political climate. In 2017, we witnessed powerful men in the field of politics, entertainment, and even technology come under the spotlight for their sexual misconduct—among them was Uber’s founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick. Following a spate of serious and troubling accusations including sexual harassment and promoting a culture of misogyny in his workplace, Travis was eventually forced to resign from the young tech empire he’d built after amounting pressure from the board.
As more organisations and institutions aim for gender diversity and female empowerment in the workplace, we decided that it was apropos to speak with a woman who works for Uber. Since 2016, Amy Kunrojpanya has been the Director of Communications (APAC), and this is talented, multi-faceted woman who volunteers for non-profits, fights against human trafficking, has worked in over 60 countries and is fluent in six languages including Vietnamese and Thai, sheds light on how Uber seeks to remedy their image and work culture.
HNW: Uber had a tumultuous year in the headlines in 2017. Do you feel the bad press has been a matter of poor PR or endemic problems in your company’s culture and system?
Amy Kunrojpanya: Uber has grown and changed incredibly quickly by any company’s standards. Today, we’re actually the fastest growing startup in the history of startups. We’ve been very transparent that we haven’t always gotten things right in the past, and that we are changing the way we do business. You may have heard about Uber 2.0 where we are openly acknowledging the need to change, to address problems—not just ‘PR’ problems, but to take action with regard to culture, governance, and the evolution of our organisation.
Our new Cultural Norms are a great example of an organization-wide effort to redefine the behaviours we believe represent Uber. These norms are still big and bold, but they are also diverse, inclusive and accountable. We also realise that this is a journey and will take time. The way to change a culture is to not only address behaviour, but also critically influence how people think. If you change the mental models, then the behaviour will change.
As a woman, what are your thoughts on being part of as well as a representative of a company that has a known culture of misogyny and sexism?
As a leader, I have the opportunity to drive meaningful change at scale in a company that is at a critical inflection point. As a woman, I have a choice to lean in so that those who come after me can experience the best of Uber, and nothing less. There is no ambiguity about instances of sexual harassment and sexism at Uber. The #metoo movement is a powerful reminder that across industries and geographies people have suffered, and together we can and must do better. I know the company is committed to acting quickly and preventing these problems from happening again.
Sheryl Sandberg once said, “We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” Today in Asia, we are making progress. We have multiple women in critical business leadership roles including Monika, Charity, Ann, Siripa, Margi and Priya; and through our Women of Uber Employee Resource Group (ERG) we are championing the continued support and growth of women and cultural change. Globally, we also recently announced the appointment of Bo Young Lee as our first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, which is another clear example of our commitment to evolving as an organisation.
What could have been done better and what has been/is being done to address the above issues?
We are focused on building a great place to work for everyone—in practice, that means creating a workplace that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the cities we serve. We are still relatively young as a company, but we recognise we have a lot more to do—that’s part of the journey from being a startup to a sustainable, global business. This will take time to get right, but it’s time well spent. We are excited to learn from the best and try new ideas to make Uber a workplace that our employees feel proud of. We’ve already held hundreds of listening sessions with employees from around the world and introduced new Cultural Norms that were crowd-sourced from our employees. We’ve also established new leaders at the global, regional and country level, and rolled out new learning and development initiatives to equip employees at all levels with the tools to be exceptional—yet still anchored to the core principles of diversity and inclusion.
Is working as a woman in tech more difficult than in other industries?
Over the last two decades, I have worked across Asia Pacific in a variety of industries that include the public and private sector. I have often been the only woman in a management or executive team, as well as the youngest women in a leadership role. The challenges women face in the workforce are real, but they’re not limited to one industry, or for that matter, to one community of professionals. Women, LGBTQ, differently-abled, and ethnically or religiously diverse professionals face unique and in some cases, shared challenges.
More than anything else I have approached challenges as opportunities. Our greatest lessons and professional growth often stem from shared experiences during tough times. I use challenges as a form of motivation to stretch myself outside my comfort zone, to innovate, to take risks and to embrace ambiguity—they are effectively the driving force in making me the person I am today. More importantly, the question should be: what are we going to do about these challenges?
As a female leader, do you believe in helping to empower other women at work? What are some personal examples?
Yes. I am intentional about creating opportunities to hire, invest in, promote and be a coach or mentor to women at Uber as well as my network across the region. I believe everyone should be equipped to own their career, from those just getting started to those seeking more responsibility or management opportunities. I’m frequently asked to share my learnings around taking risks, saying yes even when we don’t know all the answers, navigating promotions and negotiating compensation. Owning our careers starts with acknowledging that managers are not mind readers. It is up to each of us to be open about what we want, so that we can understand what it will take to get there in terms of any gaps or growth required. I conduct regular coaching, host Q&A sessions in every office I visit on behalf of the Women of Uber employee resources group, and encourage everyone, male and female, to be open to new challenges and to give themselves the freedom to fail—so they can learn, experiment, be stretched and have incredibly interesting and rewarding experiences.
Would you consider yourself a feminist? Why and how are you one?
Yes. Merriam-Webster defines feminism as the belief that women and men should have equal political, economic, and social rights and opportunities. I have seen first hand through my work in the public and private sector, and specifically the technology industry, that equal access to opportunities can have a transformative impact on a person’s life. Equality is something everyone should be in favour of. At Uber, our driver and delivery partners come from all walks of life, and with the push of a button they have the ability to start earning money immediately. This simple act, and the freedom and flexibility it enables, has changed the lives of millions of men and women around the world.