During our NYC Symposium, one of the most critical issues that surfaced was how CMOs and marketing leaders can better “walk the talk” when it comes to fostering an inclusive environment. How do we enable our teams to bring their best selves to work and demonstrate to prospective employees that their whole selves will be welcomed? “Walk the talk” is not a new phrase, but something easier said than done that requires commitment, collaboration and clarity across the entire organization. When I met Bernard Coleman, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion for Uber, I was blown away by not only his approach but his innovative thinking around how to continually further the mission by leveraging all the tools around him, including AI. Here is his story and don’t miss his deep dive into how he established Inclusion Champions and created an Inclusive Actions Index.
Why did you choose to join Uber?
I chose Uber for two very important reasons: 1) the challenge and opportunity to do diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work for such an innovative company and, 2) I believe in the platform and product of Uber.
The platform opens up opportunities for so many people, from all different walks of life. I’m always blown away by the people I get the privilege to meet and connect with through the Uber platform. As a person of color, Uber has been especially impactful in my life — I can recall multiple instances where taxi cabs would pass me by and pick up other fares. As a Black man, I can now take a car service without being turned away.
What’s currently happening in the industry that most excites you?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the most exciting innovation I’m eager to watch evolve. It’s the next frontier and everyone seems to be deeply invested in and exploring AI. There are many broad implications to think through and how and why bias is making its way into AI. As flawed input creates flawed output, innovators will have to make adjustments and figure out how to co-exist by ensuring the algorithms are inclusive and used responsibly. AI is endlessly intriguing yet terrifying because it impacts almost every aspect of life from personal digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa to Amazon’s predictive analytics to criminal risk assessment algorithms in the criminal justice system.
What are you working on now that is innovative?
“What inclusion and diversity efforts ultimately suffer from is not being intentional, deliberate or strategically comprehensive from the outset.”
We are focused on inclusion and making sure everyone has what they need to be best supported and furthermore, successful. We are actively working on the creation of an inclusion champions program. When I first arrived at Uber some two years ago, I launched the inclusive actions index to understand what inclusion is and how it shows up at Uber.
We then turned that into research and are using our findings to launch the inclusion champions program. The thought behind the inclusion champions is to provide structured opportunities for employees to cultivate inclusion at Uber. To create an environment where all are included and feel they belong — to be valued for their authenticity and to have room for their authenticity. Inclusion champions will help play the critical role of modeling and mirroring the inclusive environment at Uber, globally and locally. I believe inclusion has to be specific to the organization, sourced internally for it to fully work and be received by team members, not some outside the box solution or “one size fits all” approach.
What big learning moments have you experienced during your career? Any notable mentors?
Over my career, I’ve learned the importance of sponsorship from my friend, Ann Marie Habershaw, who passed away last summer. AMH, as we affectionately called her, was instrumental in my career. She believed in me and put me in a position to learn, grow and advance. During my first job at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and again at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), AMH created pathways for me and countless others in her network. Having AHM as a friend, advocate and sponsor truly opened the doors for my career and I don’t think I would be where I am now if not for her.
In DEI, sponsorship is the means by which talented staff can reach the next rung in their career by having someone in their corner, invested in their success. A sponsor to help their protege navigate and connect with others to gain exposure, visibility, projects and/or promotions. The positive example that AMH provided for me has been an attribute I try to pay forward and sponsor others so that they too can have the opportunity to reach their potential.
I also have a handful of mentors and people whose counsel I value deeply. Since I’ve come to work at Uber, Freada Kapor Klein has become a mentor and great friend. She’s done so much amazing work in the DEI space for decades and is an incredible leader with Kapor Capital, Diversity Advocates, Project Include, and SMASH.
How do you pick and develop the talent on your team?
In picking talent, I seek out people who are smart, life learners, resilient, self-starters who are committed to DEI. In developing talent, I try to create space for my team to both have their autonomy but make myself available to guide where needed and provide perspective and/or strategic direction. I like people who can execute and I try to help foster that so they grow in their leadership abilities. The more they are exposed to various perspectives and varying challenges, the more knowledgeable and confident they become as developing leaders.
What do you need from your leader to help you be successful?
“A seat at the table gives you a voice and the space to provide perspective in the decisions that are being made.”
In order for me and the team to be successful, three key items are needed: 1) their full support, 2) a seat at the table and, 3) transparency. These three elements are bedrock for me. If you are supported, senior leadership has confidence in your abilities and the work that you do. A seat at the table gives you a voice and the space to provide perspective in the decisions that are being made. Finally, in a transparent organization — the more I know, the better counsel I can provide. If I’m kept in the dark, it limits my effectiveness and limits the quality of the overall decision making.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Over the years, I’ve received excellent advice and it’s difficult to pick just one. So I’m going to share two, short quotes of meaning:
“People who don’t share your values, don’t value you.” – Bernard C. Coleman, Jr., my father
“Feedback is a gift, you can take it or give it away.” – Amanda Howe, friend and former boss at the DNC
What’s something that most people don't know about you?
I was once in a movie called Lackluster Syndrome shortly after college that was written by my high school friend, Eric Williford. I bet no one can find it online but it was a fun experience.
If money or talent were no object, what would you be doing other than what you’re doing now?
I’d love to be a writer or a college professor, ideally teaching DEI and sitting at the intersection of business and politics.
Favorite quote, book, movie or podcast?
I have two favorite quotes:
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Dr. Maya Angelou
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe