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Lyft Officials Discuss How They're Addressing Gender Equality And Diversity


In the world of ride-hailing, Uber is still biggest, but Lyft is growing fast, partly because the company has positioned itself in contrast to some of Uber's scandals and public relations errors. Like many tech companies, Lyft has struggled to hire a diverse workforce, and the company brought Valerie Jarrett onto its corporate board to help improve its record on racial and gender diversity. She spent eight years at the White House as a senior adviser to President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. Lyft co-founder John Zimmer and Valerie Jarrett are here with us now in the studio. Welcome to both of you.


JOHN ZIMMER: Thanks for having us.

JARRETT: Delighted to be here.

SHAPIRO: You've taken a particular position as a company. Over the weekend, Lyft offered free rides to participants in the marches against gun violence. In the past, you've given a major donation to the ACLU. Valerie, you worked with the Obamas. As a company, do you think there's a downside to aligning with a particular political point of view?

ZIMMER: Well, I'd say that we haven't aligned with a specific, you know, political point of view or party, but there are a few things that we really stand for that we feel like are important to demonstrate our values and to frankly protect our community that we serve. So we serve our drivers, we serve our passengers, and we serve the employees that work for us. And when it comes to violence, when it comes to equality, those are things that we're going to stand up for.

SHAPIRO: Valerie, did you see this as an outgrowth of the work that you were doing at the White House?

JARRETT: I had an opportunity to visit Lyft while I was still in the White House chairing the White House Council on Women and Girls, and I was impressed by the fact that they had so many women in senior positions - 37 percent of senior positions, 10 department heads at the top, run by women and that overall 42 percent of their workforce was comprised of women. And that's inconsistent with what you often see in business generally and certainly in Silicon Valley.

SHAPIRO: It says something about Silicon Valley and business in general I think that a 37 percent women in leadership figure is considered admirable.

JARRETT: Admirable, but we would be the first to say...

ZIMMER: I would say not enough.

JARRETT: ...Not good enough.

SHAPIRO: How do the figures of women in the workforce, racial minorities in the workforce, extend to the drivers who work for Lyft?

ZIMMER: When you look at our driver population, about 30 percent of drivers are women. And if you look back on historical driving jobs, that was typically around 1 percent. So we've made up, I'd say, some significant ground, but again, there's more work to be done.

SHAPIRO: Last year, Lyft settled a lawsuit that lets it continue to treat drivers as contractors, not full-time employees, and that contractor status has lots of implications from family leave and health care to minimum wage and unemployment benefits. I know these are all issues that have been important to you, Valerie, in your work at the White House. If you're positioning Lyft as a company with a social conscience, does that extend to a sense of care for drivers in these areas where full-time employees would ordinarily be covered?

ZIMMER: I think it absolutely extends into how we treat our drivers and what is the right construct of work in the future. I think what you have historically are kind of two clear lines drawn between an independent contractor and an employee. And what you have now is a new type of work. There's benefits of the flexibility. A single parent or an artist can turn on and off work when they're on the Lyft platform. That gives them something that they really appreciate, which is that ultimate flexibility. There are also drivers that range anywhere from doing one hour a week to 40 hours a week. And so you can't kind of fit the entire driver population into one of these more traditional structures.

And so it's something that Valerie and I talk about a lot. We do feel responsibility around it, and we want to lead on this topic. We've talked for a long time about portable benefits, the opportunity to bring benefits from one company to another when you're working with them. That's something we support. A broader idea, too, is that there is no greater industry, I would argue, than ours where we need both public and private partnership.

SHAPIRO: So, Valerie Jarrett, how do you balance that flexibility, which workers value, with the lack of benefits that full-time employees would have if they were working for a regular company in a normal context?

JARRETT: Well, that's why I think John's point about portable benefits makes the most amount of sense. Look, if you want to start your own business, part of why we wanted to have affordable health care for everybody is that you could sign up on the exchange and your health care would be yours. And so if we could figure out a similar construct in the gigged economy, I think that'd be great.

SHAPIRO: I want to ask you about data because Lyft has a huge amount of data about where people go and when. Does the company make that data available to anyone outside of Lyft?


JARRETT: Privacy is a top priority, and the only thing that's just right up there with that and more importantly is safety. And so everything that we're doing now is to ensure our customers, our drivers, passengers and the people who interact with those are as safe as possible. And the same thing applies to our data. We want to make sure that it's safe and secure.

SHAPIRO: So many tech companies have had leaks or breaches or embarrassing revelations about how user data has been used. Today, Facebook is in the headlines; last fall, Uber. Is it only a matter of time until something like this happens to Lyft?

ZIMMER: Look, I think we're constantly investing in privacy and security. We have a chief security officer. We have a whole team dedicated to privacy. We limit, you know, and restrict who has access to what data. And so we're going to continue investing to prevent anything like that from happening.

SHAPIRO: I can remember several years ago I interviewed the CEO of Netflix, and we talked about the red envelopes that were going back and forth. And clearly, he had an image of Netflix in his mind that bore no relation to those red envelopes that he and I were talking about. So as we sit here talking about Lyft, a company that I'm familiar with in its 2018 iteration, John Zimmer, what does the image of Lyft that is in your mind that is the equivalent of the streaming content creation service Netflix is today as compared to those little red envelopes?

ZIMMER: I imagine in 10 years, it won't make sense for people living in an urban environment to own a car. And so instead, just like streaming video or music, people will subscribe to transportation as a service. And you'll have the opportunity to save money, to have greater convenience. You tap a button. You get where you need to go. You don't have to worry about parking. And the exciting thing about this is that it opens up a really big opportunity for this country in terms of how we design and build our cities. We've built our cities for car ownership. I'd like to build our cities for people. And we can have less parking. We can have less roads. And we can have greater access and affordability if we're able to partner with the public government to realize that vision.

SHAPIRO: Thank you both so much for coming in today.

ZIMMER: Thanks for having us.

JARRETT: You're welcome. Thanks for having us.

SHAPIRO: John Zimmer is co-founder and president of Lyft, and Valerie Jarrett is on the ride-hailing company's board of directors. And after we spoke, Lyft called us to clarify something. They do share some anonymous data with states that require it, data like the number of trips in a ZIP code but not personal data or that which would identify individuals. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.