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Uber CEO: 'I 100% stand by' COO accused of racially insensitive comments

Katie Krzaczek
Associate Editor

At TechCrunch Disrupt on Thursday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said it was a “learning moment” when COO Barney Harford was publicly accused of making racially insensitive comments to employees.

“You have to take these moments and change and really improve as a company,” Khosrowshahi told TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey, during a wide-ranging discussion that also touched on Uber’s plans for autonomous vehicles and its eventual path to becoming a publicly traded company.

But, he added, “I don’t think a comment that might have been taken as insensitive and happened to be reported by a large news organization, should mark a person. I don’t think that’s fair. I’m sure I’ve said things that have been insensitive. And you take that as a learning moment, and the question is, Does a person want to change? Does a person want to improve? Does a person understand when they did something wrong, and then change behaviors? I’ve known Barney for years, and that’s why I stand 100% behind him.”

In July, The New York Times reported that Harford, who was brought on to “help fix problems at Uber” critiqued an ad featuring a mixed race couple, questioning how common that kind of couple would be among people viewing the ad. He also said he thought parts of the ad were confusing and that he mixed up two black women with different hairstyles, The Times reported. Of the day the article came out, Khosrowshahi told Dickey it was “a sh..ty day.”

Harford was previously the CEO of travel site Orbitz, one of the companies acquired by Expedia, where Khosrowshahi was chief executive.

In an apology following the Times report, Harford said: “I am humbled and grateful for the feedback I received, which has been eye-opening.”

Khosrowshahi on Thursday called Harford’s statement “heartfelt.” He followed that up by saying “[Harford] and I both learned a lot from this. The real question is, ‘What are we doing about it?'”

The real question is, ‘What are we doing about it?’

Uber hired Khosrowshahi last September following the rocky tenure of founding CEO Travis Kalanick. Kalanick stepped down from his post in June of 2017 after allegations arose that he was aware of sexual harassment issues at the company, among other incidents.

“My whole team, now, has undergone training as it relates to biases,” Khosrowshahi told Dickey. “The most important thing for me is awareness, and then measurement and results.

“We are now measuring representation across the company, looking at our recruiting processes, looking at how we promote our employees,” he said. “I’m already seeing results…as far as the company improving its representation of women and underrepresented people at the company, but more importantly, at all levels of the company.”

Katie Krzaczek is an editor at Yahoo Finance.

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