A discussion at a recent all-hands meeting illuminated Amazon’s plans to hire more black employees for director and vice president roles, with the goal of doubling representation in 2020, and again over the course of the next year.
“We are setting aggressive goals in our ongoing effort to be a top employer for Black employees,” an Amazon spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. In addition to hiring more leaders of color, the company is offering “increased investments and programming designed to grow Black leaders from within.”
The augmented focus on representation will trickle down through all levels of the organization, the company said, as it is also focused on creating new opportunities to develop the careers of Native American and Latino employees. A $700 million effort to upskill existing employees has gone into effect, while a smaller pilot, the Black Employee Network executive leadership and development program, offers training to black staff in leadership positions.
As a part of these efforts, Amazon recently appointed former General Motors and General Mills exec Alicia Boler Davis as vice president of global customer fulfillment. She will be a part of the company’s “S-Team,” the nickname that founder Jeff Bezos has coined for what is traditionally referred to as the C-Suite of a corporate organization.
Amazon also hired URB Magazine founder Raymond Leon Roker as its new global head of editorial for Amazon Music, and announced that former Mac Cosmetics chief marketing officer Ukonwa Ojo will become chief marketing officer of Prime Video and Amazon Studios. The company touts its board as one of the most diverse in the tech sphere, with five women and two people of color out of 10 independent directors.
In addition to bringing on new talent and promoting the growth of Black leaders internally, Amazon is also taking steps to foster a healthy working environment across international operations.
“As part of continuing to foster our inclusive culture, we are also undertaking a number of new steps globally,” the spokesperson said, including required diversity, equity and inclusion training for all employees and “a commitment to ensuring inclusive language in software coding.” That effort will involve eliminating certain language from the company’s documentation and software, including words like blacklist, whitelist, master and slave, among others.
Numerous programs and initiatives informed these decisions. Each year, Amazon holds a multi-day conference, dubbed CORE (Conversations of Race and Ethnicity in the Workplace), intended to spur a dialogue about racial and ethnic diversity. It has also assembled a global diversity and inclusion organization comprised of recruiting, HR and personnel professionals to support its teams.
While the tech titan is rolling out some robust plans to address its issues internally, 2020 has not been smooth sailing for Amazon’s consumer offerings. In June, the platform pulled a children’s T-shirt from its U.S. site that featured a graphic photo depiction of George Floyd’s death, just days after donating $10 million to groups focused on “combating systemic racism.” And in July, Black British Labour Party Member of Parliament David Lammy discovered a shoe listing from one of the site’s third-party sellers that contained the n-word in its product description. While Amazon acted swiftly in both cases to remove the offending products, the lapses called into question the efficacy its protocols for vetting sellers and items on its site.
In an effort to show public support for Black sellers on its marketplace, the company launched a curation of products and makers on a page dubbed “Support Black-Owned Businesses” in September, including an array of consumer goods from supplements to beauty products and clothing.
But according to Shop Black Week, an organization supporting Black-owned businesses that focuses on bolstering sales during the holiday shopping period between Nov. 20-27, Amazon’s “copycat” efforts—along with similar sales initiatives driven by TikTok, Walmart and Shopify—have blunted their organization’s impact by distracting from it.
The group, which boasts 1.5 million members, subscribers and followers, including 200 retail organizations, believes that corporations like Amazon are seeking to replicate the success of Shop Black Week by “jumping on the bandwagon.”
“As the true Official ‘Shop Black Week,’ we are concerned that these large corporate giants have not responded to our request for partnership, but instead, they are attempting seemingly to capitalize off Black consumers and business owners,” Carla Tillman, Shop Black Week’s national director, said in a statement.
While retailers like Amazon cherry-pick the vendors they spotlight and charge businesses for selling on the platform, “organizers of the Official Shop Black Week campaign welcome all types of Black-owned businesses,” according to Sharon S. Gordon, the group’s media partner. If Amazon were truly intent on bolstering these businesses, they would “be able to keep 100 percent of the proceeds from their products and services,” she added.