Tesla’s most prominent Black Executive steps down

Uba Group

TESLA Inc.’s head of human resources and one of its highest-ranking Black leaders, Valerie Capers Workman, is departing for a new job, leaving the company without a key defender after multiple racism controversies in recent years.

Workman is joining career-network firm Handshake next week as chief legal officer, she confirmed in an email. Her LinkedIn profile shows that her role as Tesla’s vice president of people concludes this month.

Workman has been a prominent voice from within the company on issues of race and has also played a key role leading Tesla’s response to Covid-19 hazards. The departure is among the most significant changes at the top in recent months. Tesla struggled with a raft of executive departures in 2018, but the turnover has largely settled down as the company’s stock has soared.

Tesla’s shares climbed 50% last year, adding to a 743% surge in 2020. The company, which tends not to disclose much about its executive moves, didn’t respond to request for additional details.

“I am proud of all that I was able to accomplish at Tesla with the support of truly excellent colleagues, especially the People and Legal teams,” Workman said in an email. Citing her high school experience in track and field where she needed to “pass off the baton in a better place than when I received it,” Workman wrote that she was “confident that I have done this at Tesla with the implementation of so many important programs for employees worldwide.”

Workman, an attorney who started in Tesla’s legal department in 2018, was elevated to the vice president of people position in July 2020 and reported directly to Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk. During her tenure, Tesla battled discrimination lawsuits, navigated pandemic surges, released its first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report, and told employees that they could use one of their paid time off days to celebrate Juneteenth.

Workman is featured in the company DEI report as an example of someone who rose swiftly through the ranks, moving from associate general counsel to the head of human resources for several regions and ultimately her most-recent executive role. 

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

Black and African-American employees represent 10% of Tesla’s U.S. workforce, but just 4% of managers at the level of director and above, according to the report.