Article: Power of 10 to Momazonian: Amazon HR Head lists impactful women centric policies - Take cues

Culture

Power of 10 to Momazonian: Amazon HR Head lists impactful women centric policies - Take cues

Deepti Varma introduced the "Conscience Keeper" policy, aimed at tackling biases in reviews and discussions to promote fairness and equality in talent processes, thus nurturing a positive workplace atmosphere.
Power of 10 to Momazonian: Amazon HR Head lists impactful women centric policies - Take cues

It is not just a responsibility but an imperative for leaders to actively empower women in the workplace. Recognising and fostering the potential of women employees contributes not only to individual career growth but also to the overall success and innovation within an organisation. This Women's Day, leaders are reminded of the crucial role they play in creating an inclusive and supportive work environment. 

Empowering women in the workplace involves providing equal opportunities for professional growth, acknowledging their contributions, and addressing challenges they may face. Leaders must champion policies that promote diversity and inclusion, ensuring that women are represented across all levels of the organisation. This includes cultivating an atmosphere where women feel heard, valued, and confident in expressing their ideas and perspectives. 

As we celebrate Women's Day, it is an opportune moment for leaders to reflect on their organisation's existing policies and practices. Taking cues from successful empowerment initiatives, leaders can strive to implement new strategies that go above and beyond in fostering equality. This might involve mentorship programs, leadership training, flexible work arrangements, and initiatives that address specific barriers women might encounter in their professional journeys. 

During an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Deepti Varma, Vice President of People Experience Technology at Amazon India, Japan, and Emerging Markets, highlighted several empowering policies aimed at women within her organisation. She emphasised the importance for leaders to go beyond the ordinary, striving to create environments where women can flourish, achieve success, and make significant contributions. 

Through proactive efforts to empower women, leaders play a pivotal role in shaping workplaces that are dynamic, innovative, and fair, setting the stage for a brighter future within their organisations.

Excerpts from the interview: 

What motivated Amazon to focus on empowering women in the workforce, and how does it align with the company's broader goals and values?

At Amazon, we believe in building a culture which is diverse, equitable, inclusive and conducive for growth to offer people fair opportunities to unlock their full potential. Fostering gender diversity aligns with our core values of customer obsession and innovation, and is aligned with our mission to build a workplace for our Amazonians that helps them invent on behalf of our customers. Embracing diverse perspectives and talents enables us to work backwards and deliver continuous value to our customers. 

While Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are good for business, our commitment is based on something more fundamental than that - it is simply right. DEI is part of top goals driven by business leadership for us at Amazon, which is tracked across all processes, right from hiring, performance reviews, to development and growth. Empowering women in the workforce reflects our commitment to creating a culture of inclusion and equality. We recognise that a diverse and inclusive workplace not only enhances employee morale and well-being but also fosters a more dynamic and innovative work environment. By empowering women, we aim to create equal opportunities for career growth and advancement, ensuring that talent is recognized and rewarded based on merit rather than gender.

We also emphasise that diversity is not just about gender, but also about including different cohorts of people who are underrepresented today. It is our aim to continuously empower them by bringing them to the forefront and providing them with a level playing field, helping create a more inclusive and equitable society.

Could you outline some specific initiatives or programs at Amazon aimed at empowering women?

At Amazon, we have various focused programs and initiatives that aim to support empowerment of our women talent. 

Our ‘rekindle’ program is the flagship women hiring program where we provide a launch pad to women who have taken a break in their careers due to any circumstances. Through this initiative, Amazon India aims to offer opportunities and support women to professionally re-integrate themselves and resume their corporate career. Structured onboarding, focused mentoring, flexible work options and on-the-job learning are the key elements to help potential candidates in ramping up. Since its launch in 2022, the program has attracted over 200 women. 

Our ‘Ramp Back’ program which enables women employees to transition smoothly to work, post their maternity leave. Under the program, employees can have a modified work schedule for up to 8 weeks. This helps them ease their way into working full time without getting overwhelmed. In fact, managers are sensitised to understand specific challenges and requirements of employees who are expecting mothers and evaluate business feasibility and determine the need of expecting mothers’ physical presence at work for effective delivery. We also introduced ‘ParentEx’ program to enhance the experience of new parents as well as expectant mothers. Amazon’s childcare benefit policy enables access to network of childcare providers such that employees can select a childcare centre as per their requirement and avail their services at a discounted rate. 

We also focus on addressing the flexibility needs for women understanding that they have their unique challenges and need support. Managers are educated and encouraged on the importance to be sensitive to the requests of new mothers to work in specific shifts and understand travel limitations owing to the need of attending her child. We want to propel careers of women while they meet their personal milestones. We also have various focused affinity groups at Amazon, which are employee-led resource groups, formed with the vision to bring us one step closer to being an inclusive organization by impacting every stage in the employee life cycle and elevating their employee experience. 

‘Women at Amazon’ is an affinity group aimed to facilitate the change and be advocates for women employees with the organization to impact changes whenever needed. ‘Momazonian’ is a network group for working mothers which exists to share knowledge, foster career growth, and cultivate community connections among parents, while advocating for policies for women with children. 

‘Women of Alexa’ is a women-led community which plans activities, initiatives to support and improve employee experience for women employees in the Alexa team. 'WiFi' (Women in Finance) is a platform designed to help women build careers in finance, focusing on recruiting, retention, and advancement. 

What are some of the key challenges that Amazon has faced in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment, both internally and externally?

Advancing gender equality is a complex and multifaceted issue that involves a range of challenges. Representation is one of the biggest challenge. Women may be underrepresented in certain industries, roles, or levels of leadership, which can make it more difficult for them to advance in their careers. At Amazon, we continuously aim to bring women to the forefront and provide them with ample opportunities and support when they enter the workspace. We also provide them with specific training, infrastructure, mechanisms to bring the equity that they would need to have a level playing field helping them to thrive. 

Our efforts to bring diversity and build equitable opportunities for women goes beyond Amazon and across the community, we are committed to create a larger impact to see a needle movement in the representation of women. Amazon Future Engineer program is one of Amazon’s biggest community initiatives in India which works towards providing computer science education to those who face disproportionate barriers in accessing it. With this program, we have reached 1.2 million children across 7,000 government schools in the country and continue to drive actions towards bringing ‘Careers of the Future’ to those farthest from it. 

In 2023, 68 students were selected for an early tech internship offered exclusively to AFE scholars by Amazon. For students, who are first-generation learners, hailing from small towns where exposure to technology is limited, an internship with a large tech company, such as Amazon, is a game changer. The scholarship, besides offering financial assistance over four years, also provides access to Computer Science bootcamps, mentorship, access to Amazon WoW, a network platform launched in 2021, provides a space for women in engineering to connect with Amazon leaders, recruiters, and the broader Amazon community. 

It offers opportunities to participate in skill-building sessions, access available resources, engage with alumni about their career experiences, and gain insights into the Amazon culture. Since its inception, Amazon WoW has garnered over 298,000 subscribers on its platform. Over 900 women have secured internships or full-time opportunities at Amazon, a testament to the program's effectiveness.

In recent years, we have taken several steps to promote gender equality and diversity in our workforce. DEI is part of top goals driven by business leadership, which is tracked across all processes, right from hiring, performance reviews, to development and growth. We ensure representation of women across leadership teams and forums to enable exchange of diverse viewpoints especially during talent reviews and hiring decisions. 

In addition to holding accountability to equal opportunity practices, we also continuously revise our policies to make them inclusive, hold sensitisation sessions for employees to create awareness, drive inclusive interviewing practices, and eliminate any usage of non-inclusive terms, for example, job descriptions at Amazon are drafted in a manner ensuring no sentence or the way the role is defined reflects preference for any cohort/ gender bias. A bias buster mechanism called ‘Conscience Keeper’ involves a neutral person, who calls out biases in the reviews, interrupts biased discussions to ensure parity and equity in talent processes. Mechanisms like these helps build a more positive workplace environment.

We have also launched various learning programs specially curated for women transitioning to leadership roles at Amazon India that focuses on up-skilling women. Our dedicated women leadership development programs like ‘Pinnacle’, for high performing women in our operations, aims at building an internal pipeline of diversity leadership for the future. A curated learning program called ‘Catapult’, launched in partnership with Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning, for mid-level women managers, comprises of curricular elements like expressing leadership voice, leading with an enterprise mindset and strengthening network. 

At Amazon, we also recently announced the launch of Women in Night Shifts (WINS) at one of our large Sort Centre in Haryana. WINS is designed to provide a safe and supportive work environment for women, ensuring equal opportunities for both men and women to work in various shifts, and championing inclusivity for all. In some states in India, regulations prohibit the employment of women in night shifts in warehousing operations facilities primarily stemming from concerns about women's safety and wellbeing. 

Therefore, safety, security, and wellbeing take centre stage to enable the WINS initiative. Amazon India has actively engaged with state governments to advocate for equal work opportunity for all. Through dedicated efforts and collaboration with authorities, the company has successfully enabled night shift operations for women across select sites in Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab, and now, in Haryana.

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How does Amazon foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity, particularly in leadership positions, and what role do women leaders play in shaping this culture?

Amazon fosters a culture of inclusivity and diversity through various initiatives and practices aimed at ensuring equal opportunities for all employees, including women, particularly in leadership positions. One way Amazon promotes inclusivity is by actively seeking diverse talent and providing pathways for career advancement regardless of gender. This includes initiatives like leadership development programs, mentorship opportunities, and targeted recruitment efforts aimed at increasing diversity at all levels of the organisation. 

As far as the inclusion of women is concerned, we believe that it is important to ensure the right input, to get the desired outcome. For instance, we ensure parity in the number of resumes reviewed and considered for any role, without which we don’t move forward with the hiring process. However, focusing on numbers alone is not the key; rather, it is essential to cultivate the right mindset and intentions to establish an inclusive work environment. 

Hence, we train all our leadership team on leading with Empathy and fundamental core principals of supporting women through various life stages. Our talent rhythms have built in inspection and audit points, which keeps managers and leaders honest and helps them with data points to flag off any unconscious bias or opportunity areas. The analytics on various aspects helps to define priorities and revisit decisions based on data.

Women leaders at Amazon play a crucial role in shaping this culture of inclusivity and diversity. They serve as role models and advocates for gender equality, championing initiatives that support the advancement of women within the company. Women leaders often participate in mentorship programs, where they provide guidance and support to aspiring female professionals, helping them navigate their career paths and overcome barriers to advancement. 

We have programs that create kind of a “ripple effect” in women mentorship. ‘Power of 10’ is one such mentoring program, where once a group of 10 women graduate from this program, they further support the next 10 women and this time a mentee becomes a mentor. The 'Ask Me Anything' one-on-one sessions provide fresh women leaders an opportunity to seek guidance from senior women leaders, while platforms like ‘Listening Circles’ support women employees through open conversations with leaders.

Overall, Amazon recognises the importance of having diverse leadership teams that reflect the communities they serve. Women leaders play a vital role in driving this diversity agenda forward, helping to create a workplace where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to succeed.

What are Amazon's future plans or goals regarding women's empowerment, and how do you envision these initiatives evolving over time?

Our commitment extends across all communities of talent, including women, LGBTQIA+, military veterans, and people with disabilities. Over the years, we have launched multiple initiatives to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion into our workforce, recognising the unique perspectives each individual contributes. We will continue to build upon existing initiatives while also introducing new programs aimed at further advancing equality and inclusion within the organisation.

At Amazon, we have ‘Connections’, a real-time, company-wide innovative internally built platform which provides Amazonians an effective way to share continuous feedback in a confidential manner, which guides on how to make our organization more inclusive and diverse organisation. We will continue to actively lean on employee pulse to evolve our various women inclusivity and empowerment initiatives. In addition, we also focus on conducting women round tables to seek anecdotal feedback, to further build relevant actions to empower women at Amazon. 

Our goal is to continue nurturing a diverse and empowered workforce that reflects our commitment to equality and inclusion, driving positive change not just within Amazon, but also by increasing the parity in the industry with programs for partners, associates, students, and the industry at large such as: Amazon Saheli stands out as a pioneering program that was launched in November 2017, aimed at empowering and enabling women entrepreneurs across the country to sell their products on the Amazon.in marketplace. 

Amazon Saheli through its partner network has been able to digitize 1.8 million+ women entrepreneurs with 1.5 Lakh products across 10 categories like apparel, jewellery, groceries etc. Amazon India recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME), to collaborate and promote digital growth of women entrepreneurs in India, especially in Tier-2, Tier-3 cities and beyond. Through this partnership, Amazon India will aim to support approximately 25,000 women entrepreneurs and artisans in their digital entrepreneurial journey.

AmazeWIT (Amazon Women in Technology) is our flagship Diversity and Inclusion initiative designed to celebrate and empower women in technology and aims to ensure women in technology at Amazon and beyond are able to learn, get inspired and network with each other, to emerge as one strong community. AmazeWIT conference 2023 which was recently held in Bangalore, India, provided a unique platform for women in technology to network and inspire one another while learning about the latest trends from eminent leaders from Amazon and various other tech companies. AmazeWIT Circles is a cohort-based networking event for women to connect, engage and educate themselves for a career in technology.

AccelerateHer, a program designed by AWS (Amazon Web Services) in collaboration with Lightspeed, to enable women founders of early-stage Indian start-ups to build, grow, and scale successful technology businesses.

Techxelerate, a program co-created by the AWS in conjunction with the Indian Women Institutional League (IWIL), and sponsored by AWS Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Innovation (ID&E) Fund, to empower women-led tech startups in India to build, grow, and scale their venture right at early stages of their journey.

Building DEI and empowering women is an on-going journey, and we will continue to work towards it. 

This is our call to all women business leaders! If you're ready to showcase your story of 'Inspiration To Action' at the People Matters TechHR India, write to us and let your narrative of success resonate on our grand stage. 

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Topics: Culture, Diversity, #HRTech, #HRCommunity, #TechHRIN, #InternationalWomensDay

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