Topline

Amazon announced Wednesday it will seek to increase the number of Black and female employees in senior leadership jobs, in the wake of reports the retail giant has discriminated against Black workers in terms of hiring and promotions.

Key Facts

Amazon said in a blog post on Wednesday that it plans to double the number of its U.S. Black employees in senior roles — directors and vice presidents – this year from 2020 figures.

Amazon will also increase the number of its U.S. Black employees at mid-level roles – management and senior management — by at least 30% year-over-year from 2020 figures.

Amazon will also raise the number of women working in senior positions in tech and science — directors, vice presidents, engineers — by 30% year-over-year in 2021.

Amazon promised to increase the number of its U.S. Black software development engineer interns by at least 40% this year.

The announcement comes just weeks after some current and former Black employees filed a lawsuit against the retailer giant for racial discrimination.

Key Background

According to Amazon data, Black employees accounted for 3.8% of its senior positions in the U.S. (up from 1.5% in 2018), compared with a figure of 70.7% for whites (down from 74.3% in 2018). Women (of all races) accounted for 22.8% of senior U.S. positions in the company last year, up from 20.8% in 2018. On the whole (including all levels of employment), women accounted for 46.9% of Amazon’s U.S. workforce in 2020, while Black workers represented 26.5% of its total U.S. staffing. But Amazon’s new hiring targets come after some current and former Black Amazon employees have filed lawsuits charging the company with racial discrimination. For example, in early March, a Black woman named Charlotte Newman, of Washington, D.C., filed a federal lawsuit against Amazon, charging the firm with intentionally underpaying her and other Black employees compared to their white counterparts. She also accused the company of placing newly hired Black employees in positions beneath their level of expertise and experience. Newman’s attorneys wrote in the complaint that there was a “near-total lack of Black representation in and very few women in the upper echelons of [Amazon’s] leadership.” In response to the allegations, a company spokesperson stated: “Amazon works hard to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, and these allegations do not reflect those efforts or our values. We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind.” Amazon is not the only tech giant to be accused of racism. Black and minority employees at Facebook and Google have made similar charges. As of May 2020, Google reported that just 5.9% of its employees and contractors were Latino and 3.7% were Black. At other major tech firms at that time, the percentage of Black employees remained very low: 2.9% at Salesforce, 3.8% at Facebook, 4.4% at Slack, 4.5% at Microsoft, and 6% at Twitter.

Tangent

A February 2021 report in Vox.com detailed a multitude of racially discriminatory acts at Amazon over the years, including lower rates of promotions for Black workers and harsher job evaluations compared to their non-Black peers.

Crucial Quote

“The only Black people that I saw [in Amazon’s Seattle headquarters] every day were either opening doors or cleaning floors,” Chanin Kelly-Rae, a former global manager of diversity for Amazon Web Services, told Seattle TV station KING. “As a woman that happens to identify as Black or African American, I was never as consciously aware of feeling very detached or different in the space as I was at the Amazon corporate campus.”

Surprising Fact

Minorities accounted for a significant majority of Amazon’s total U.S. workforce. As of 2020, white workers accounted for 32.5% of all of its U.S. workers, versus 26.5% for Black workers, 22.8% for Hispanics, 13.6% for Asians and 1.1% for Native Americans. The overall percentage of white employees had dropped from 38.4% in two years.

Further Reading

One In Four Black, Hispanic Workers Have Faced Workplace Discrimination In Past Year, Poll Suggests (Forbes)

Survey Reveals That Most Leaders Aren’t Listening To Workplace Discrimination Concerns From Employees (Forbes)

Race In Tech, Part One: Inside The Numbers (Forbes)