Last week was a busy week for Amazon's Diversity and Inclusion efforts. Senior Vice President of People eXperience and Technology, Beth Galetti, posted a blog highlighting the 2021 diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals alongside another post sharing the makeup of Amazon's workforce over the past three years. This was followed by Jeff Bezos's last letter to shareholders as Amazon's CEO, most of which focused on its workforce.
Bezos's letter focuses more on the company's hourly employees. It addresses some of the concerns around working conditions and attempts from workers to unionize that grabbed headlines and even got the attention of some senators. But Bezos makes a personal commitment in the letter rather than leaving it all for the new CEO to figure out. He writes: "In my upcoming role as Executive Chair, I'm going to focus on new initiatives. I'm an inventor. It's what I enjoy the most and what I do best. It's where I create the most value. I'm excited to work alongside the large team of passionate people we have in Ops and help invent in this arena of Earth's Best Employer and Earth's Safest Place to Work."
There is no question technology can help improve efficiencies and increase safety. Still, it can also pose a threat to job security, something I am sure is already on top of many workers' minds. Bezos's admission that working conditions could and should be better and the Day 1 obsession that drives much of Amazon's customer-centric approach can translate into an employee-centric approach too are two reasonable first steps Amazon has taken. Now starts the work and I am sure many will want to see concrete steps towards a better workplace.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is where we have seen Amazon improve both in transparency and in results. In her memo, Galetti shared that the 2020 DEI goals were reached. Amazon doubled the representation of Black directors and vice presidents, launched inclusion training companywide and removed racially insensitive language in its tech documentation. While most of the effort undertaken by Amazon in 2020 focused on the Black community, Galetti is confident that many of the learnings can be applied to other underrepresented groups. Another big focus in 2020 was improving hiring practices and development and promotion practices that offer equal opportunity. In 2021, these areas have specific goals linked to them:
Inspect any statistically significant demographic differences in Q1 2021 performance ratings by VP team to identify root causes and, as necessary, implement action plans.
Inspect any statistically significant demographic differences in attrition and low-performance actions by VP team monthly to identify root causes and, as necessary, implement action plans.
Retain employees at statistically similar rates across all demographics.
I wish there were a little more detail shared on these three points, especially regarding how Amazon intends to make up for the potentially low sample numbers they will be analyzing. Yet, these are concrete steps that will help highlight one of the most significant issues with employee retention: career progression.
Corporate Employees Charts by gender and race for the past three years
A study published in March 2020 by Pinsight collected data from 129 organizations and 328 managers across most industries to show that 90% of organizations rely on managers' judgment to identify potential leaders. On average, managers are three times more likely to select men for having leadership potential. The study found unintentional discrimination against women in almost half the organizations who took part in the study and against underrepresented groups in two-thirds.
Several types of bias can play a role in an evaluation. Still, one of the most negatively impactful biases when it comes to underrepresented groups is the "similar to me" bias. This bias occurs when the manager gives higher ratings to employees who are similar to them. Naturally, we tend to like and relate well to people who remind us of ourselves, but of course, this should not play any role in a performance review. While Amazon's new statistical significance analysis should help flag any bias, it is assuring to reach a more significant number of leaders from underrepresented groups that will likely have the most significant impact on driving better opportunities for promotions. In this vein, Amazon is committing to:
For the second year in a row, double the number of U.S. Black employees at L8-L10 (Directors and VPs) year-over-year from 2020 numbers.
Increase hiring of U.S. Black employees at L4-L7 by at least 30% year-over-year from 2020 hiring.
Increase the number of women at L8-L10 (Senior Principals, Directors, VPs, and Distinguished Engineers) in tech and science roles by 30% year-over-year.
People Managers charts by gender and race for the past three years
Looking at the numbers for the past three years, there has been progress, especially with the Black cohort. The percentage of Black managers is considerably higher compared to companies like Apple and Google. Although the definition of which roles are included in the numbers might be slightly different, I would argue that the broader set of roles at Apple, which rely less on technical background, might give them an advantage
In February 2021, Glassdoor analyzed 28 employers, comparing those who self-identified as Black or African American to those who self-identified as non-Black and found that job satisfaction for Black or African American employees is lower at 11 of the 28 companies. Amazon had 69 responses from Black employees, who gave it a 3.2 satisfaction score. The average rating from non-Black employees is 3.3; the overall score from everyone is 3.9.
The differences in data show that despite much focus on company culture, employees can experience very different realities depending on their level of seniority, their gender, their ethnicity and more. The more data we bring to bias training, another goal for Amazon in 2021, the more impactful it will be for employees and their leaders.