By Kimberly Olson
Last year, Tariq Meyers, not long out of college, became the first head of inclusion and diversity at Lyft, the peer-to-peer ride-sharing company whose vehicles initially became recognizable for their furry pink mustaches.
Meyers was hired as a community affairs organizer and was quickly promoted to community affairs manager, developing inclusion programs and working with Lyft leadership to address issues affecting employees in underrepresented groups.
Since his promotion in September of 2016, he has helped Lyft power up its commitment to diversity and inclusion on various fronts. The month Meyers became head of inclusion and diversity, the company chartered its eight employee resource groups (ERGs), including UpLyft Women, UpLyft Unidos, and UpLyft Veterans. It has also formalized its support of transgender employees with manager education and training, an ERG, a health coverage option for transitioning-related care, and support while transitioning on the job.
In June of 2016, Lyft signed the White House’s Tech Inclusion Pledge, vowing to implement specific goals to recruit and retain diverse employees, and measure its progress. Now Meyers is taking the company’s commitment up a notch, with a focus on transforming the culture from within.
From a young age, Meyers had instincts toward social justice and bringing people together. While at Boston College High School, his research on cultural identity—particularly of African American and Jewish youth—garnered a prestigious Certificate of Accomplishment from the Princeton University Prize in Race Relations.
At Ithaca College, where he was a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar, Meyers earned a BA in political science and government, with a minor in African diaspora studies. He served in student government and was one of 40 students in the country selected as a 2011 Freedom Rider, retracing the route on the 50th anniversary of the ride for PBS’s American Experience.
Meyers served as an Economic Equity Fellow at the Greenlining Institute, advocating for a more diverse, inclusive policy-making process at the federal financial regulatory agencies to help reverse the impacts of the 2008 financial crisis on underserved communities.
Diversity Woman talked to Meyers about his vision for Lyft, and why he’s not interested in candy-coating the company’s diversity numbers.
Diversity Woman: During childhood, were there any clues that you might end up working in diversity?
Tariq Meyers: As a young black man growing up in Boston, I saw my friends not being able to achieve their dreams because of systemic problems. So that sense of justice and advocacy has always been part of who I am.
I was socialized in a Jesuit all-boys high school in Boston where social justice was core. Whether I was doing academic research or grassroots activism, I thought that advocacy was my calling.
DW: What did you take from the experience of retracing the journey of the 1961 Freedom Riders?
TM: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Those are the words I heard [renowned civil rights leader and US Representative] John Lewis speak to a group of 40 wide-eyed college students with a hope to change the world. We were in Washington, DC, minutes away from the original departure point for the 1961 Freedom Riders. Those words charged me with the responsibility to act “today” and the opportunity in standing together.
DW: What drew you to work at Lyft?
TM: I didn’t see myself transitioning to the private space. But I used to take Lyft, and I started to hear stories about folks who were using Lyft to close their family’s wealth gap—to get to and from BART [public transit] every day or using it for school.
I became obsessed with this idea that everyone had an ability to belong in a space. I traveled the country [with Lyft]. I organized the voices of our drivers, passengers, and advocates and shared their stories with elected officials during city council hearings, etcetera. There was tremendous power in seeing people as people, and actualizing their full potential through storytelling.
DW: As head of inclusion and diversity, what are your goals?
TM: My vision was that Lyft had a responsibility to be a model for our peers of what a supportive community looks like. I wanted everyone, no matter what they looked like, to have an opportunity. We couldn’t have a space where we were telling people that there was community in a car, but not community here.
We have to do a deep dive in relationship building. People weren’t going to drive just for the sake of it, especially after hearing the horror stories about our peers in tech.
DW: What is your leadership style?
TM: I’m a servant leader. I believe that you have to bring others along with you.
I often get critiqued: “Tariq, you haven’t been around for that long. How can you solve these problems?” I look at the challenges through a lens of humility. I have a lot to learn, but our world has changed, and there are new systemic issues. I’ve been an outsider my whole life. As a young black man from a working-class family, I know what it’s like to face bias. I can position myself in a space of empathy and bear witness to injustice, not only in our world, but in our industry. Not everyone is willing to do that. It can be draining, but it offers an opportunity to see things in a whole new way.
DW: What is Lyft doing to address “bro culture” in Silicon Valley?
TM: We need to have conversations about “bro culture” in Silicon Valley and also in the transportation industry. That’s the reason why we had the pink mustache to begin with. We wanted women to feel safe on our rides and feel like they had a place too. We do an annual engagement survey that asks questions that are inclusion focused. All of our execs have gone through unconscious bias training.
DW: Lyft just published its first diversity report.
TM: It’s about time!
DW: What were the big takeaways?
TM: We know that we have work to do. [Lyft leadership is 36 percent female and the staff is 63 percent white.]
People celebrate small wins, but I didn’t want to tell a story where we celebrated such small percentages. I wanted to be as humble as possible. We’re not proud of where we are, but we’re so ready to learn from our mistakes. Our two founders want to represent the changing face of America. The work isn’t just by me, the one brother who has the title. I have an incredible team who is so mission-aligned.
DW: Does Lyft plan to collect data beyond gender and ethnicity?
TM: We are also collecting data on LGBTQ, caregiver status, geography, religious community, class, and disability so we can figure out how to report that out.
DW: What initiatives at Lyft are you most proud of?
TM: I’m proud that my role was created. We signed the White House inclusion pledge and followed through within the year to publish our inclusion data. We met with every department head and worked on a diversity recruiting policy. Our ERGs are internal advocates for the communities they represent. We wrote our first inclusion policy for trans employees.
DW: What are your biggest challenges?
TM: One is pushing the industry to focus less on the numbers—although the numbers are important—and more on the culture. People overcomplicate my job. We’re just community builders at our core. We want to create an environment where people can be exactly who they’re supposed to be while becoming who they’re meant to be.
DW: How can leaders help diverse employees succeed?
TM: Inclusion starts on the individual level. It’s turning to the person next to you and letting them know that there’s a place where they belong. Speak up fearlessly. Be an advocate and push leaders to understand. Build bridges. Stand with each other and fight with each other.
DW: What good book have you read lately?
TM: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Bryan knows that everybody has a story, even the people that the world has turned its back on.
DW: What is your favorite space in your office? TM: We have a room called the Willy Wonka Room. You push a door and you’re brought to a room that looks like a grand library. It reminds me that if you push your imagination, you never know what you’ll find on the other side. Everything’s possible. DW
Kimberly Olson is Diversity Woman’s managing editor.