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Amazon to investigate culture of discrimination at AWS

Amazon wants to become the world’s best employer.

Allie Nawrat

Amazon discrimination
Credit: NOMIKA via Twenty20.

Unleash Your PeopleHow can it overcome its bad working culture to achieve this?

Discrimination in the workplace is far from a thing of the past.

However, multiple stories this week suggest that governments are starting to take this much more seriously.

For example, Walmart has been ordered by a federal court to pay $125 million in compensation to a sales associate with Down syndrome who it unfairly dismissed in 2015, while Activision Blizzard is being sued by the state of California for having a ‘frat’ boy culture that discriminates against women.

But it isn’t just governments that are cracking down on discrimination allegations, some employers are also taking matters into their own hands.

Most recently, Amazon has announced it will investigate allegations from employees about the toxic culture at its cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and particularly the professional services sub-section, ProServe.

This comes on the back of an internal petition, which has been seen by the Washington Post, that alleges Amazon’s AWS has “an underlying culture of systemic discrimination, harassment, bullying and bias against women and under-represented groups”.

It also criticizes Amazon’s management and HR teams for failing to properly investigate discrimination claims – the petition says the processes are “not fair, objective or transparent” and that the system is “set up to protect the company and the status quo, rather than the employees filing the complaints”.

The petition also called for an independent investigation of “employee concerns that there is a non-inclusive culture”, as well as for Amazon to create an employee council to work with the outside investigator.

AWS CEO Adam Selipsky recently emailed the authors of the petition to note that Amazon had hired an outside firm to investigation the harassment and discrimination allegations, and that he would review the findings.

Amazon shared Selipsky’s email with UNLEASH, it read: “Thank you for your thoughtful note on what is a very important topic. I share your passion for ensuring that our workplace is inclusive and free of bias and unfair treatment. 

I can tell you we are committed to that outcome, as well as to specifically investigating any incident or practice that is inappropriate.

I understand you are aware that, given the nature of the concerns here, we have retained an outside firm to investigate and understand any inappropriate conduct that you or others may have experienced or witnessed. 

This firm is experienced and objective, and I personally will review their independent findings, which will help guide any further actions.

“I know that you have been actively engaged in productive conversations on these issues with the AWS ID&E team, and I would encourage that to continue. Personally, I believe that frank and open discussion is really important.

Thanks again for raising these concerns.  We are all committed, as am I personally, to making sure we get this right.” 

However, no time frame has been set for the investigation, although the employee petition called for it to be completed by the end of October.

As well as opening up an investigation, the ProServe HR and leadership has also implemented other measures to tackle discrimination at the sub-unit. These include an assessment of the culture within the ProServe, the launch of initiatives like female mentorship and goal setting around issues like culture, diversity, equity and inclusion, according to Amazon.

Amazon has recently made other commitments to tackle issues around its problematic working culture, particularly linked with sexual harassment and AI surveillance at work.

For example, in May, Amazon launched a staff wellbeing initiative at its warehouses called WorkingWell, and in April it committed to raising the pay of 500,000 employees working across its logistics networks In the US.

All of this is part of Jeff Bezos’s, Amazon’s former CEO turned executive chairman, commitment to making the retailer the best employer in the world. Will it be able to achieve this?

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