by Chelsea Kelly
Kate Kakoschke grew up in Bingara, a small town in regional Australia with a population of just over 1,000 people. According to the Australian census, her hometown is among the most socioeconomically disadvantaged in the country. She moved to Brisbane with her father and brother when she was 14, leaving her mother and sister behind, and attended an average public high school. Kate was the first person in her family to go to University. “I ended up pursuing the same degree as my favorite teacher, a Bachelor of Creative Industries at Queensland University of Technology.” She began working at the age of 10 delivering newspapers and has done just about every casual job out there. “I’ve been a retail casual, a barista, a caterer, a bartender, a front-of-house manager, I’ve done nightclub promotions, festival wrist-banding, I’ve been a brand ambassador, I’ve done modeling, graphic design, film production, direct sales marketing, social media marketing, and Airbnb host.”
Kate’s path to Uber
While pursuing her degree, Kate took an internship at an independent film studio, and discovered that the owners drove using the Uber platform in order to put the extra money they made from driving back into their business. They referred her and she began her Uber journey as an independent driver, completing almost 1,000 trips in 6 months. More than 5 years later, Kate has contributed to the Uber business from nearly every angle: she has been a Customer Service Representative in the Brisbane Greenlight hub, launched Uber Eats in markets in both Australia and Peru, ran brand campaigns for Uber Eats, and is now an operations manager for Uber Eats Australia New Zealand focusing on retention and consumer experience.
When asked about her unique perspective, Kate attests, “there are so many learnings that I’m so grateful for that Uber has exposed me to, but the cultural norm of ‘we value ideas over hierarchy’ has really resonated with me. At Uber, we believe that the best ideas can come from anywhere. Our job is to seek out those ideas, to shape and improve them through candid debate, and to take them from concept to action.” This cultural norm led her to represent Uber at the UN’s Forum for Business and Human Rights in Geneva. “I discovered the event while doing research for Equal at Uber and I thought it would be beneficial if Uber attended. I raised this suggestion and was essentially met with, ‘go on then.’ I never expected that I would be the one to go.”
How have the obstacles you’ve encountered throughout your life given you an edge?
“I’m a really good problem solver. That’s my favorite, most satisfying thing to do. I love puzzles, I love all of that sort of stuff. I learned how to write SQL at Uber because I sat next to two engineers and I’m really competitive. I’ve always been good at math[ematics], but I’d never had exposure to anything like coding before. The first time that I applied to Uber full time, I failed my analytics test. Everyone had told me that the test would be so easy and that I would be fine because I was already doing quite complex analytics. But when I got to the test, although I could do the math, I had never really worked with pivot tables before. I just hadn’t done that. I learned how to do it, I took the test again and it was fine. I think that the obstacles have provided me with this grit and strengthened my ability to solve problems. General business problems and using pivot tables are nothing compared to what life can throw at you.”
Championing socioeconomic diversity at work
Kate is Global Chair of the Equal at Uber Employee Resource Group whose mission is to normalize the diversity of social class. Equal at Uber is the only ERG founded outside of the US, and is among the newest at just three years old. One of the initiatives that Equal at Uber promotes is called “Distance Traveled.” Kate explains, “This is a term that was coined by husband and wife philanthropists Mitchell Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, whom we were lucky enough to host for a fireside chat in 2019. The idea is to use ‘Distance Traveled’ as a way to understand how many obstacles a candidate or employee has overcome to get to our door, as an important measure of work ethic or resilience. They are often stories of those who, through the conditions of birth and upbringing have had relatively less access to money, to contacts who promote their upward mobility, and to the cultural know-how necessary to get ahead in schools and companies — but did it anyway.”
In doing research for the initiative, Kate and her colleagues discovered that social class stereotypes depict people from lower-socioeconomic as less competent than higher-income individuals, which inherently fosters lower confidence. But they also found that key skills displayed by high performers are agnostic of social class, so one of the ERG’s key objectives is to shift internal perception towards valuing key strengths and thus increase representation of employees with diverse socioeconomic statuses.
The Distance Traveled initiative aims to move the needle on socioeconomic diversity in three main ways; the first is to share “Distance Traveled” experiences through an awareness campaign later this year. “We want to create a consistent storytelling platform, because we employ so many cool people with amazing, true stories that they tend to keep secret,” Kate says. As the ERG continues to develop, Kate also plans to roll out a survey to understand and track socioeconomic diversity at Uber, and later build a strengthsfinder/development tool that could empower individuals to drive their own development with a greater understanding of the skills they already have, and what areas they need to develop, regardless of how or where those skills were developed.
“Something easy that everyone can do right now is to update your LinkedIn profile with every job you’ve ever had, not just the ones that you think will boost your career. One of the major hurdles we have as a group representing socioeconomic diversity is that it’s almost impossible to see. Unlike other elements of diversity, unless you specifically ask someone their life story, you’ll never know they also worked in fast food and struggled through university just like you did. The fact is that we start to develop these key skills in every job or experience we’ve ever had, so pretending the less impressive jobs never happened and we just magically fell into our dream careers doesn’t make sense to me. Although it’s a simple action, it helps to normalize the path less traveled, and might help someone still in that chapter of their lives realize how much else is out there and available to them.”
Everyone is just sitting in rooms, talking about things
Kate has dealt with her fair share of imposter syndrome, which she thinks is probably common for individuals who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. But the best piece of advice she ever received, she says, was from Susan Anderson, Senior Director and General Manager of Uber for Business and Kate’s initial hiring manager. “I caught up with Susan a while after she left Queensland to take on one of her many impressive new roles since. I asked her what the role was like, and she said, ‘the more people that I meet, no matter how high up or important, I realized that they’re all just people who sit in rooms and talk about things.’ So what I took away from that was, the people doing these jobs, even if they are a brain surgeon, or an astronaut, are just people like us. And you can do those jobs if you want to.”