In a leaked document, Amazon employees shared stories of racism and gender discrimination while calling for a new leadership principle on 'inclusion' (AMZN)


Jeff Bezos

  • Amazon employees have been sharing a document titled “The case for a 15th leadership principle on inclusion” over the past couple weeks.
  • The document outlines a movement to get “inclusion” added to Amazon’s famous leadership principles, a codified list of 14 business philosophies the company adheres to before making important decisions.
  • As part of the movement, Amazon employees are sharing anecdotes of workplace discrimination they experienced at work.
  • The stories include incidents of racial and gender discrimination, as well as the general lack of women across the company.
  • The move comes amid growing calls for anti-racism across corporate America, and would represent the most symbolic employee-driven change at Amazon sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon employees are sharing anecdotes of racial and gender discrimination they experienced at work as part of an effort to add “inclusion” to the company’s famous leadership principles — a codified list of 14 business philosophies created by Amazon’s top executives.

Members of internal affinity groups and minority employee organizations at Amazon have been circulating a document titled “The case for a 15th leadership principle on inclusion” this month to rally support for the initiative, according to a copy of the document and an email seen by Business Insider. 

The 12-page document, written on June 3, explains the rationale behind the movement and includes employee-submitted stories of workplace discriminiation. In just a week since the document’s publication, almost 500 employees have expressed their support for the initiative, according to an internal survey from last week.

While the current leadership principles encourage “diverse perspectives” and treating “others respectfully,” it doesn’t have a separate category that specifically promotes inclusion and diversity.

“Many of us strongly feel the need to explicitly define inclusion in the Amazon Leadership Principles,” the document said.

The move comes amid growing calls for stronger anti-racism and diversity measures across corporate America, following George Floyd’s death last month. If successful, the initiative would also represent one of the most symbolic employee-driven changes in Amazon spurred by the current Black Lives Matter movement.

Amazon’s leadership principles are the company’s foundational values deeply ingrained in its culture and decision-making process. The list includes CEO Jeff Bezos’s favorite business maxims, such as “customer obsession,” and is used regularly as guidance from the individual level up to the most senior executives at Amazon.

One employee who spoke to Business Insider said any change to the leadership principles is akin to a “constitutional amendment” for Amazon because of its rarity and cultural significance.

“As a forward thinking company, I believe it is Amazon’s responsibility to address this head-on without delay,” one of the movement’s organizers wrote in the document. “I recognize that adding a whole new leadership principle is not a decision to be taken lightly.”

In an email statement to Business Insider, Amazon’s spokesperson confirmed the existence of the document and said the company has a zero tolerance policy for workplace injustice.

“Amazon works hard to foster a culture where inclusion is the norm for each and every one of our 800,000+ employees, and these anecdotes do not reflect our values,” the statement said. “We have zero tolerance for any kind of discrimination in the workplace and investigate all claims reported by employees to Amazon Human Resources or through our anonymous Ethics Hotline.”

‘My ancestors owned slaves’

The document includes a list of anonymous incidents describing unfair treatment of Black, Asian, female, and LGBTQ employees at Amazon. 

One person wrote that a white male manager once told a black female employee that he’s a “good guy” because his ancestors owned slaves and they were “good to their slaves.” Another person wrote that a manager berated a female engineer for trying to “lower the bar” when she asked him to interview more women for job openings.

In a separate case, a straight white man allegedly mocked the promotions of a transgender woman, a bisexual man, and a gay man on his team by saying “you have to be into men to be promoted around here.” 

Several posts pointed out the small number of women across the company, and how some managers have zero female direct reports.

As part of this initiative, Amazon employees are recommending, among others, mandatory discrimination/anti-racism training sessions in the same way sexual harassment classes are offered to all employees. They’re also suggesting improved language guidelines for internal and external written materials, and an implementation of minimum diversity requirements for all hiring loops and promotion panels.

Screen Shot 2020 06 16 at 8.50.53 AM

Like many of its tech peers, Amazon’s workforce sorely lacks Black and Latinx representation. Each racial group accounted for roughly 8% of Amazon’s US managerial positions as of the end of 2019, according to a company report. By contrast, almost 60% of Amazon’s US managers were white and 21% were Asian. The portion of Black employees is higher for Amazon’s total US workforce (26.5%) because a lot of them are in low-wage warehouse and delivery positions.

Over 72% of its global managers are men.

Amazon’s lack of diversity is best reflected in Bezos’s most senior group of executives, called the S-team. Of the 23 S-team members, none are Black, only two are people of color, and just three are female. Bezos previously said the S-team is predominantly white male because of the low turnover within the group. Amazon’s board of directors, however, is much more diverse, following last year’s appointment of Starbucks COO Rosalind Brewer and former Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi.

The group organizing the leadership principle change is asking Amazon employees for more support to sustain its momentum. It’s now looking to form a committee of volunteers to help run the initiative and build up its internal email list to raise awareness. It’s also looking to gather more data and collect more anecdotal evidence to make their case to Amazon’s leadership team. 

“Everybody has different strengths—let’s all use ours to insist on highest standards when it comes to the things that matter most: inclusion, diversity, and accessibility,” the document said.

Pushback from Amazon

It remains to be seen whether this initiative will lead to actual change. While employee activism has been on the rise at Amazon, their efforts have seen mixed results.

After Amazon’s internal climate activist group called for better climate policies last year, Amazon announced several net-zero-carbon initiatives and a $10 billion donation by CEO Jeff Bezos. And when warehouse workers protested Amazon’s poor safety conditions amid COVID-19, the company implemented several changes including mandatory face masks and temporary pay increases.

But each of those moves were met with strong pushback from Amazon. Some of the more high-profile activist employees were fired in recent months, including warehouse worker Chris Smalls, who led one of the warehouse protests, and corporate employees Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, who have criticized the company’s climate policies.

Amazon also started deleting some protest invites from employee inboxes this year to interfere with their activism. Amazon’s climate change group recently said it’s launching an external sign-up page for new members because Amazon is “censoring internal communications.”

Amazon executives, however, seem more open to hearing employee opinions over the Black Lives Matter movement. Amazon’s retail chief Jeff Wilke wrote in a recent email to his staff members that he’s going to “create more opportunities to listen,” while hardware boss Dave Limp wrote in a separate email that he welcomes new ideas for helping solve systemic racism in the country.

By formalizing a sense of inclusion in its leadership principles, Amazon employees are hoping to establish a fairer workplace culture.

“We are past the point of inclusion being enough,” the document said. “We need to ensure that employees are not just INCLUDED, but given EQUITABLE TREATMENT at work.”

SEE ALSO: Inside Jeff Bezos’ delivery drone dreams: With fake team names, changing leaders and delays, Amazon Prime Air is fighting to finally take off

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Pathologists debunk 13 coronavirus myths