Tesla’s most prominent black executive resigns

By Josh Eidelson and Dana Hull | Bloomberg

Valerie Capers Workman, head of human resources at Tesla Inc. and one of its key black executives, is leaving for a new job, leaving the company without a key advocate after several racist controversies in recent years.

Workman will join career networking company Handshake next week as legal director, she confirmed in an email. His LinkedIn profile shows that his role as Tesla’s vice president of personnel ends this month.

Workman has been a leading voice within the company on race issues and also played a key role in Tesla’s response to the dangers of Covid-19. The departure is among the most significant changes at the top of recent months. Tesla saw a series of executive quits in 2018, but revenue largely leveled off as the company’s shares soared.

Tesla shares climbed 50% last year, adding to a 743% increase in 2020. The company, which tends not to disclose much about its leadership moves, did not respond to the request. request additional details.

“I am proud of all that I have been able to accomplish at Tesla with the support of really great colleagues, especially the People and Legal teams,” Workman said in an email. Citing her experience in high school in track and field where she needed to “hand over the baton to a better place than when I got it,” Workman wrote that she was “confident that I did this at Tesla with the setting. implementing so many important programs for employees around the world.

Workman, a lawyer who started in Tesla’s legal department in 2018, was elevated to vice president of human resources in July 2020 and reported directly to chief executive Elon Musk. During his tenure, Tesla fought discrimination lawsuits, overcame pandemic outbreaks, released his first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report, and told employees they could use any of their days off with pay to celebrate June 17th.

Workman is featured in the company’s DCI report as an example of someone who rose quickly through the ranks, from deputy general counsel to human resources manager for several regions and ultimately to his most recent leadership role.

“My promotions are one of the things I love most about Tesla; here you are never categorized to do just one thing, ”Workman said in the December 2020 report.

Black and African-American employees make up 10 percent of Tesla’s U.S. workforce, but only 4 percent of managers at director level and above, according to the report.

In recent years, Tesla has faced a number of high-profile lawsuits for its treatment of black employees and contractors at the company’s auto plant in Fremont, California. In October, a former contract worker at the factory was awarded $ 137 million in damages after a jury found Tesla ignored racial taunts and offensive graffiti. Tesla is attractive.

In an internal email Tesla posted as a blog post on the night of the verdict, Workman wrote that she “heard testimony from every witness” and attended every day of the trial, sitting at the table. of Tesla’s defense. “The Tesla of 2015 and 2016 (when Mr. Diaz worked at the Fremont plant) is not the same as the Tesla of today,” Workman wrote in the post.

Workman used her experience as a black woman in the United States to reflect on the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

“When I walked into work during Shelter In Place, I attached my work badge to my seat belt so I didn’t have to reach for it in case I got pulled over and had to explain why I was. was on the road, ”she wrote in a message to employees at the time. “Fearing for the lives of my husband and sons is a constant undercurrent that I suppress so that I can go about my business. “

“Why diversity matters”

Workman’s post described the steps she had taken, including asking the company’s benefits team to provide an overview of mental health resources and reminding her security manager to ” that security teams are aware of their role in helping employees and understanding the stress they are facing ”. She added: “This is one of the reasons why diversity is important.”

Tesla’s DCI 2020 report also noted that Workman led the teams that developed Tesla’s ’employee-centric programs’ in response to Covid-19.

Months after Musk defied a local health ordinance by keeping the Fremont plant open, Workman defended the company’s handling of the pandemic at a city council meeting in Austin, Texas, where Tesla has since moved. its headquarters and builds its next factory. She told council members she was there to “really tell you the real Tesla story as opposed to the things you hear in the media,” according to a transcript posted on the city’s website. “We were way ahead of the curve, and it’s a little unfortunate the media didn’t catch that.”

Tesla has always been opaque about its executive organization chart, preferring to focus on the company’s products rather than people. Tesla has only three named executives on its regulatory records: Musk, CFO Zachary Kirkhorn, and Drew Baglino, senior vice president of powertrain and energy engineering.

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