Uber’s head of human resources resigned Tuesday, reportedly after a probe into how she had handled racial discrimination allegations at the company, marking the latest departure of a high-level executive there.
Uber launched an internal investigation after anonymous whistleblowers asserted that Liane Hornsey, the company’s chief people officer, had systematically dismissed allegations of racial discrimination, Reuters first reported.
Hornsey and chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi made no mention of the investigation’s finding in emails to staff about the resignation, obtained by The Washington Post. “I know this comes a little out of the blue for some of you, but I have been thinking about this for a while,” Hornsey said. She thanked her colleagues and expressed pride for “our shared ethic of doing what’s right for our employees.” Khosrowshahi praised Hornsey in a separate email, writing “she’s accomplished a lot” and describing her as “incredibly talented, creative, and hard-working. She’s been a valuable member of my leadership team.”
Uber declined to comment on the reason behind Hornsey’s departure, but said in a statement, “We are confident that the investigation was conducted in an unbiased, thorough and credible manner, and that the conclusions of the investigation were addressed appropriately.”
Hornsey began at Uber in 2017, weeks before engineer Susan Fowler published her explosive memo about harassment and discrimination at the ride-hailing company. Hornsey joined Uber from SoftBank and had previously worked in human resources at Google.
Her tenure was immediately consumed by the fallout from Fowler’s allegations, revamping the ride-hailing giant’s culture and implementing the 47 recommendations made by former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. after an internal investigation. Last October, Hornsey spoke with the Wall Street Journal, saying the company was making progress on most of the recommendations but also describing the difficulty in finding enough diverse candidates in engineering.
She said the company had implemented practices such as earlier dinner hours and part-time working, held 200 listening sessions with employees, added women and diversity and inclusion experts to interview panels when hiring engineers, and moved recruiters to seek out diverse candidates. She also recalled that in her first meeting with Khosrowshahi, his last questions were: “Liane, how are you taking diversity seriously? How does the organization know you’re taking diversity seriously? What are you doing for women, specifically?”
But she also noted that it was “bloody hard” to implement the Rooney Rule — a hiring approach, named after a policy for selecting NFL coaches, that some employers use to mandate that one woman or underrepresented minority be interviewed for certain positions — for engineering jobs. And although Hornsey said she had thanked Fowler publicly, she said, “I don’t know whether there would be any benefit in meeting her.” That sparked several reactions from Fowler on Twitter, who wrote that “she really, really doesn’t like me.”
When Uber finally published its diversity numbers for the first time in March 2017, well after many other tech companies had done the same, Hornsey wrote that “it’s no secret that we’re late to release these numbers,” thanking employees for pushing for the transparency. At the time, it said, 8.8 percent of employees were black, 5.6 percent were Hispanic, 30.9 percent were Asian and 4.3 percent were multiracial.
In 2018, each of those figures stayed the same or ticked up slightly except the percentage of black workers, which dropped to 8.1 percent.
Hornsey’s resignation follows several high-profile exits at Uber. The executive charged with repairing the company’s brand, Bozoma Saint John, left the company last month after serving for only one year. She was brought on after a tumultuous year of scandals at Uber, which eventually led to the ouster of co-founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick. The company’s head of finance and top lawyer were among the officials who resigned last year.