Uber recently confirmed that it has put its chief diversity and inclusion officer on a leave of absence following a controversial employee event called “Don’t Call Me Karen.”
In a statement to The New York Times, Noah Edwardsen, an Uber spokesperson, confirmed that the company put Bo Young Lee, Uber’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, on leave after Black and Hispanic employees raised their concerns over her two-part event.
The event was reportedly part of Uber’s Moving Forward, a series that discusses issues about race, gender, identity and class.
“We have heard that many of you are in pain and upset by yesterday’s Moving Forward session,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi reportedly wrote in an email sent to employees. “While it was meant to be a dialogue, it’s obvious that those who attended did not feel heard.”
A Black employee first raised concerns weeks after Uber held its first “Don’t Call Me Karen” event in April, according to The New York Times.
During an all-hands meeting, the employee reportedly asked the company how it would prevent “tone-deaf, offensive and triggering conversations” from being included in its diversity initiatives, to which Lee allegedly responded, “Sometimes being pushed out of your own strategic ignorance is the right thing to do.”
Complaints piled up following Lee’s alleged response and her second “Don’t Call Me Karen” event.
Black and Hispanic employees took to Uber’s workplace communication app Slack to voice their concerns, with some claiming that they were lectured during the second event about how they initially reacted.
Some employees also reportedly claimed that Lee was dismissive of their concerns after she lectured them about the struggles white women experience and how “Karen” is a derogatory term.
“I think when people are called Karens it’s implied that this is someone that has little empathy to others or is bothered by minorities others that don’t look like them. Like why can’t bad behavior not be called out?” one employee reportedly wrote.
The “Don’t Call Me Karen” events, with the second event being held in late May, were held via Zoom for up to 500 employees.
Lee, who joined Uber shortly after Khosrowshahi became the CEO in 2018, made history as Uber’s first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer.
She was previously the “first Global Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the Risk and Insurance Services businesses for Marsh and McLennan Companies” before she joined Uber, according to her company profile.
While the origins of the term remain unclear, many people online use “Karen” to describe an entitled person who harasses or reports people of color in public.
The rise of such incidents pushed a supervisor in San Francisco to introduce an ordinance known as the CAREN Act that would criminalize racially biased 911 calls.
It should be noted that the term “Karen” should not be confused with the Karen people, an indigenous group of people living in the Thailand-Burma border region in Southeast Asia.