Uber chief operating officer Barney Harford said he is “embarrassed” by allegations that he made insensitive comments about race and gender to his colleagues, according to a memo obtained by Business Insider.
The allegations were first reported by The New York Times on Friday night.
Some of those comments were seen as insensitive toward women and people of color, according to The Times’ sources. Harford joined Uber last year, following the turbulent tenure of the ride-hailing company’s former CEO, Travis Kalanick.
The Times outlines several incidents involving Harford, in which he allegedly made comments about culturally sensitive issues that left some employees feeling uncomfortable, the newspaper reports. According to five people interviewed by The Times, Harford at one point made a critical assessment about an Uber ad that featured a mixed-race couple.
During the call, Harford allegedly expressed doubt that Uber’s target audience would be able to relate to an interracial couple, according to the report.
In the memo to staff Friday evening, just before the Times published its piece, Harford said he regretted his behavior.
“In the course of conversations with some of you, I have been embarrassed to learn that at times I made comments that made people feel uncomfortable, isolated, or unwelcome,” Harford said in the memo. “Certainly that was not my intent, but I make no excuses for my behavior. To those of you who I hurt with careless words, I’m sorry.”
Harford also indicated he would stay with the company while working to confront his cultural “blind spots.”
“I will seek out opportunities to build the best, highest performing, and most diverse business leadership team,” Harford said.
Harford reportedly told colleagues that he regretted his comments, but people on the call told the Times that it was his pattern of behavior when it came to talking about women or minorities.
Ever since the incident, other employees reportedly filed complaints to the human resources department. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was reportedly also notified of his remarks and directly spoke to Harford.
Read the full text of Harford’s memo to staff here:
“In a few minutes, the New York Times is going to publish a painful story to cap a painful week.
“In the course of conversations with some of you, I have been embarrassed to learn that at times I made comments that made people feel uncomfortable, isolated, or unwelcome. Certainly that was not my intent, but I make no excuses for my behavior. To those of you who I hurt with careless words, I’m sorry.
“While getting feedback like this is undoubtedly hard, it’s the only way to really understand how we are perceived and how our actions affect others. The truth is I think of myself as ethical and objective; a good decision-maker and leader. So while reflecting on your feedback, I was especially struck by a Harvard University study that said, in reality, most of us fall far short of our self-perception — including, it turns out, me.
“You have my commitment that I will do everything necessary to create a truly inclusive environment. I will be working directly with Dara, Bo, Pranesh and others to ensure that I have a plan that will enable me to become a better leader to all of our colleagues. I am committed to working with a coach who will challenge me to confront my blind spots. And, most importantly, I will seek out opportunities to build the best, highest performing, and most diverse business leadership team.”