Uber’s Global Director of Social Impact on how Maria Shriver changed her career

As Global Director of Social Impact at Uber, Julia Paige hit the ground running (or should we say, driving?) when she joined the company in February 2020.

The very next month, as the Coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S. and changed life as we know it, Paige courageously began navigating the brand’s response: a commitment to provide 10 million free rides and food delivery to those in need.

Between her leadership and this responsive activation, Paige’s tenure has already positively contributed to redefining Uber’s community presence.

Paige, who is based in San Francisco, isn’t a stranger to tough jobs. After growing up in Columbus, Ohio, graduating from St. Mary’s College in Maryland and earning her MBA from The University of Michigan, she started her career as an assistant at ICM Partners, a talent agency.

“I graduated from business school, expecting to earn a nice salary, and here I was answering phones, delivering mail and getting coffee for basically minimum wage,” said Paige. “I thought I wanted to be an agent, but quickly decided that it was not for me. I told myself I had to stay a year, and at exactly the year mark, I started looking for another job.” 

The next gig introduced her to journalist and activist Maria Shriver — while working at NBC — which changed Paige’s career trajectory and her perspective as a whole.

“Working for Maria was a different type of graduate school. I learned so much from her. And I will forever be grateful for the experience of working in news,” said Paige. “While I was at NBC, I saw it all: from political conventions to the aftermath of mass shootings, to so many heartwarming and heart-wrenching stories. I saw the best and worst of the human condition.”

Read on for more life lessons, perspective-shifting epiphanies and career tips from Uber’s Global Director of Social Impact — including how she got to where she is today.

How did you become interested in a career that focuses on social impact? 

I don’t think I chose my career; I think my career chose me. I grew up with parents who cared deeply about the world and their role in making it better — not through grand gestures, but by how they lived their lives.

They expected me and my siblings to do the same. In my family, as kids, we were expected to have an opinion on big issues, and my parents expected us to know what we believed in and more importantly, be able to say why. 

When I went to work with Maria, it was as if she was an extension of my parents. Even though she was already famous, I was shocked to see she had the same beliefs as my mom and dad.

It was this continued education — about the power one individual can have — that helped develop how I now look at the world. I came to understand that it didn’t matter what job I had —  I could still bring a level of humanity into whatever it was. And through that, I ended up in this space.

What does a typical day in your shoes look like these days?

In these days of COVID where I work from home. I have three young children — triplets —  a husband that has started and built businesses from scratch, and a demanding global job. There is no typical day! 

I do try to take a few minutes every morning and every evening to give to my most important jobs, that of being a mom and a partner, my complete focus. Making sure my kids know that they are loved by both my husband and myself is how I like to start and end my days. 

How did your COVID response come about? 

I started at Uber in February, and basically right away began working on our efforts to help those in need during the pandemic. I knew we needed to find a way to use our technology and resources to help meet the needs of the public – and providing free rides through Uber and free meals through Uber Eats seemed like the best way to do that.

Ultimately we committed to providing 10 million free rides and meals to people in need around the world, and I’m proud of how quickly we got the program off the ground.

What’s the biggest misconception about working at a tech company? 

The biggest misconception about working at a tech company is that it is just free meals and perks. Working for a company that is building an industry as it grows is demanding. It is tough, and quite a bit is expected of you.

How can the tech industry become more inclusive?

It’s important that everyone understands this is something we all should be working on and something for which we are all responsible. We are better as a company and as a society when we realize that diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths. 

With that said, inclusion is messy and not simple. There are those who see me as black, as a woman, and as a mother of small children, and who will judge me and my work product with attention to those identities. That can be tough. But I know that it is these identities — being black, being a woman, and being a mother — that makes me an asset in the workplace. And I’m proud of that.

Part of being an inclusive work environment is recognizing the value of having different types of people around the table, thinking together – that’s where the best ideas come in.

This is important to me. I work to ensure that wherever I am, everyone gets an opportunity and has a voice. Whether that is through hiring, mentoring, or just meeting with folks to have an informal chat about my experiences.

I am proud that the leadership at Uber has spent a lot of time reflecting on what more we can do as a company to be better in this space. And we’ve made many new, long-term commitments to drive this work forward both inside and outside the company, and I look forward to seeing a meaningful change to propel inclusivity.

What obstacles have you faced in your career? And specifically as a woman of color?

I have been underestimated many, many times. But I don’t let that get in the way of how I think of myself, or what I know I can do. Do I think that I have not faced racism or sexism? Of course not, but I will not be held down by what others think of me. It’s not always easy, but that’s why having a great support system is so important. 

What is the best career advice you’ve received? Who gave it to you and why is it still relevant today? 

I am always asking folks for advice, on how they achieved something and what lessons they have learned. I have received so many great pieces of wisdom, but I keep these two ideas with me:

  1. Eunice Shriver shared that it’s important to understand that you can’t have it all — at least not at one time. If you are lucky, you can have a great deal over a lifetime. That’s something I think about a lot. 
  1. Who you choose as your partner is as much a determining factor for your success as anything you do. I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to have a truly supportive partner.

Who are your biggest cheerleaders/support system?

My family. The one I was born with — I have two sisters and a brother — and a whole host of friends that have become family over my lifetime. Some I have known since college, some I met at NBC, some from Google. In a short time, I have been at Uber, I have expanded my family even more!

Do you have a role model in the industry or a mentor? 

My mom and dad, and Maria Shriver. My parents raised four kids with a lot less than I have and no help. Yet, I have three phenomenal siblings who are each good people and my best friends. Maria has taught me loads, both through our many conversations and through example — how she lives her life. 

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? 

I have to admit that my spare time is pretty limited these days, but being there to share mornings, meals, and evenings with my kids and my husband is how I’d always choose to spend my spare time.

Hilary Sheinbaum is an author, journalist and speaker in New York City. Her book The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month (HarperCollins) is available for pre-sale and will be published Dec. 29, 2020.