Amazon.com Inc. pledged to increase the number of women and Black employees in its senior ranks as part of an unusually detailed set of diversity commitments for a company that has rarely publicly discussed the makeup of its workforce.
The e-commerce company outlined a set of hiring and promotion targets for 2021, including a 30% rise in the number of women in senior technical jobs and doubling the number of high-level Black employees in the U.S. In a note to employees posted Wednesday on the company's blog, Amazon human resources chief Beth Galetti also committed to more frequent internal reporting on diversity matters, ensuring participation in companywide inclusion training and inspecting any significant demographic differences in performance reviews and attrition on individual Amazon teams.
Diversity and inclusion historically has not been among the public priorities at Amazon, a company reluctant to air internal issues of any sort. That silence did not insulate Amazon from criticism. For years, a frequent barb was to point out Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos' senior circle of leaders featured more men named Jeff than women. The company in recent years has added more diverse leaders to its top leadership council, which is called the S-team. Two Jeffs have also since retired.
Amazon on Wednesday also disclosed more detailed data on the makeup of its workforce, outlining the racial and gender breakdown of Amazon's frontline employees, corporate staff and senior managers. The data confirm the company's warehouse workers and other low-level employees are far more representative of the U.S. population than Amazon's office workers, who skew more white and male. Amazon is the second-largest private sector U.S. employer behind Walmart Inc., with some 1.3 million employees worldwide.
Black employees made up 26.5% of the company’s U.S. workforce in 2020, according to the data released Wednesday. Latino workers were 22.8% of employees while those described as Asian were at 13.6%. White employees were 32.1% of the workforce.
Among U.S. senior leaders, however, White employees made up 70.7%, followed by Asian employees at 20%, Latino workers at 3.9% and Black employees at 3.8%. Women made up just 22.8% of the senior leadership.
The company stopped short of releasing data on the gender and racial breakdown of its technical employees, statistics that Amazon's peers among the largest U.S. technology companies have made public for years.
The data, which show single-digit percentage increases in the portion of female employees and people of color at Amazon in recent years, is encouraging for a company of Amazon's size and a testament to the work of recruiting teams often led by people of color, said Katharine Zaleski, co-founder of the diversity recruiting and retention platform PowerToFly.
"Unfortunately I don't see any retention data in this report, and that's one of the pillars of growing a diverse organization," she said. "You can get people in the door, but if there's no retention data around whether they can thrive and be promoted then it's hard to grow recruiting percentages for underrepresented groups."
Amazon's diversity data release follows pressure from shareholders to conduct an independent audit to see how the business affects marginalized groups. In a resolution targeting Amazon, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third-largest U.S. public plan, cited alleged discrimination against the company's Black and Latinx workers, low wages and exposure to dangerous working conditions, including COVID-19, as well as air pollution from distribution facilities located in minority neighborhoods.
Amazon asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to block the proposal. The regulator last week denied their request, meaning shareholders will get the opportunity to vote on the nonbinding resolution at the company’s annual meeting later this year. Shareholders have targeted other businesses, including banks and pharmaceutical firms, with similar audit demands.
Amazon had previously released the gender and racial data on its workforce it is required to report to the federal government, but stopped disclosing the statistics in 2017. The company has said it plans to publicly release the data contained in its federal EEO-1 form later this year.
A recent report from Vox highlighted concerns raised over the years from employees who suspected the company promoted Black employees less frequently than their peers. Andy Jassy, who is set to succeed Bezos as CEO later this year, defended the company, but acknowledged Amazon had work to do on diversity.
"This is some of the most important work we have ever done, and we are committed to building a more inclusive and diverse Amazon for the long term," said Galetti, who has the title of senior vice president of People eXperience and Technology.
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