Insiders reveal what it’s really like working at Amazon when it comes to hiring, firing, performance reviews, and more

Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy surrounded by images of workers and robots in Amazon warehouses
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy.

  • Insider is investigating Amazon’s workplace amid a major effort to unionize the company.
  • The e-commerce and cloud giant has a complex performance-review system some employees say is unfair.
  • Amazon is investigating allegations of gender bias in its Prime division after Insider reporting.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon is the second-largest US employer and still one of the fastest-growing in the country. It offers income and benefits to well over 1 million people, and it’s been a source of jobs and shopping convenience during the pandemic.

With that level of influence, Amazon’s operations have come under intense scrutiny, which has prompted a nationwide unionization effort. The following covers everything you need to know about what it’s like to work at the company.


How Amazon culls its workforce

Andy Jassy
Under outgoing CEO Andy Jassy, Amazon’s cloud unit has built up an impressive roster of cloud security partners – but they often also work with competitors Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

Insider is investigating Amazon’s system for improving, or ousting, employees deemed underperformers. Once managers label workers as struggling, they are put on a “Focus” coaching plan. If they fail there, the workers are moved to another program called “Pivot,” and then finally to an internal company jury that decides their fate at the company.

The system has been criticized by some current and former employees, who say it is unfairly stacked against them and can encourage managers to give bad reviews to good staff. Amazon says it gives managers tools to help employees improve and advance in their careers. “This includes resources for employees who are not meeting expectations and may require additional coaching. If an employee believes they are not receiving a fair assessment of their performance, they have multiple channels where they can raise this,” a company spokesperson said recently.

Amazon has a goal to get rid of a certain number of employees each year, which is called unregretted attrition. Some managers at the company told Insider they felt so much pressure to meet the target that they hire people who they intend to fire within a year.

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The company has been hit with allegations of bias

amazon logo

There’s been a rash of lawsuits filed against Amazon alleging gender and racial bias. In May, five current and former female employees sued the company Amazon, claiming “abusive mistreatment by primarily white male managers.”

In February, Charlotte Newman, a Black Amazon manager, filed a suit alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment. And last year, a high-profile female engineer called on the company to fix what she saw as a “harassment culture,” Insider reported.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company investigated the cases, found no evidence to support the allegations, and doesn’t tolerate discrimination or harassment.

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Amazon’s warehouses churn through workers

Robots in a UK Amazon warehouse
Robotic Amazon warehouses use robots to ferry shelves of items around the warehouse floor. Above, a photo taken in an Amazon warehouse in the UK.

The company’s fulfillment centers employ hundreds of thousands of people, offering pay and benefits that are competitive versus other retail-industry jobs. But the work can be grueling, some staff don’t stick around long, and there are growing efforts to unionize this modern blue-collar workforce.

Amazon warehouses are partly automated, using robots that zip around the shop floor fetching pallets of merchandise and bringing them to employees who pick the correct items and pack them for shipping. The company hires thousands of extra temporary workers each year to support a surge in orders during the holiday shopping period.

During the pandemic, online orders have jumped at an unusual time for Amazon. It prompted an unprecedented hiring spree last year but caused tension with workers concerned about entering warehouses that could spread the virus. These issues came to a head earlier this year, when employees at a fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, voted on whether to form a union. The effort failed, but there’s a bigger union push gathering steam.

In his final shareholder letter as CEO earlier this year, Jeff Bezos defended Amazon’s working conditions, but said the company needed “to do a better job for our employees.”

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Amazon’s delivery network relies on thousands of drivers

Amazon delivery drivers pee bottle 4x3

The company partners with UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service, but it also operates a massive fleet of in-house delivery vehicles. These vans are driven by a combination of employees, third-party courier services, and contract workers.

Amazon is known for imposing strict time constraints on drivers and tracking how many times they stop and how fast they drive. While the company factors in break times – a 30-minute lunch and two 15-minute breaks – some drivers say they either can’t or don’t want to take them.

Earlier this year, a US lawmaker tweeted that Amazon workers have to pee in bottles. The company denied this, but multiple drivers confirmed it was part of the job. Amazon later apologized and said drivers have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic and being on rural routes, adding that the issue has been exacerbated by closed public bathrooms during the pandemic.

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How to get a job at Amazon

Amazon job fair 2017
Job seekers line up to apply during “Amazon Jobs Day” at a fulfillment center in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 2017.

Amazon remains an important employer that is growing quickly. Unlike some of its Big Tech rivals, the company offers a range of positions, from highly technical roles to blue-collar jobs. It’s recruiting methods range from massive job fairs to tough one-on-one interviews.

The company ranks among the top employers among technical students. In a survey published last year, Amazon came 10th in a survey of engineering students, beating out Intel and IBM but trailing Tesla and SpaceX.

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The history of the rolling suitcase shows how sexism can warp economics

GettyImages 1010631724
Rolling suitcases were seen as the domain of women.

  • A new essay in The Guardian highlights how rolling suitcases were undermined by gender roles.
  • The suitcases were seen as female-coded for years, keeping them out of the mainstream.
  • The anecdote showcases how systemic biases shape our economy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Today, rolling suitcases are the mainstays of moving sidewalks, duty-free shops, and business commuters pacing while on the phone. But while it’s a no-brainer that rolling a suitcase is easier on your arms than carrying it, they’re still a relatively recent addition to the mainstream.

That’s strange, though, because they’ve been around for a long time.

An essay in the Guardian by Katrine Marçal argues that the product resisted widespread adoption for decades because of sexism. Women were rolling suitcases for decades before the actual product was officially “invented” in 1972, Marçal reports, writing there was an “unmanly” association with the product. It also ran into another gender norm: That men were expected to tote luggage on everyone’s behalf. Luggage wasn’t seen by society as something that should ease travel burdens for women traveling alone, Marçal writes.

Eventually, as Marçal chronicles, solo travel by women became more ubiquitous in the 1980s – and a new design in 1987 somehow made the rolling suitcase safe for men to use, too.

The anecdote showcases how what is seen as the traditional cycle of economics – products meeting demand, and consumers buying them – can’t be separated from perceptions around gender roles and other systemic exclusion. In the case of the rolling suitcase, men went without a more useful device for years, for no reason besides bias. But economic history has more serious repercussions than sore arms from similar instances of prejudice.

For instance, women are about 70% more likely to get seriously injured or die in a car crash, Insider’s Rachel Premack reported in 2019. It may be coincidence, but female crash test dummies weren’t used until 2003, and when American car companies introduced that dummy, she was just five feet tall and weighed 110 pounds.

Beyond automotive safety, many consumer products are designed without women in mind, Nicola Erdmann and Sophia Ankel reported in 2019. For instance, many smartphones are too small for women’s hands – and Apple, which came under particular fire for iPhones being too large, didn’t include a menstrual tracker as part of its health app for several years.

While men can and do use rolling suitcases today, biases can persist in shaping the economy, and who has access to certain products. As Insider’s Isobel Asher Hamilton reported, algorithmic bias goes beyond apps that depixelate people of color’s faces into white faces; leading facial recognition software is less adept at identifying darker faces and female faces. That type of software has been used in policing – a practice that was curtailed in the last year following protests over racist police brutality (and following years of advocacy by activists).

And, while the fashion and clothing industry has somewhat opened the doors in terms of plus-sized fashion, many retailers still opt out of clothing larger bodies – potentially leaving billions on the table.

It makes one wonder, what economic progress is being left behind right now, just because of perception around gender roles?

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Amazon is investigating allegations of gender bias in its Prime team after Insider reporting

Whole Foods Prime Amazon bags

Amazon has opened an investigation into its Prime team in the wake of internal complaints about gender bias and a hostile workplace culture for women.

The probe, which coincided with Insider’s reporting last week, suggests Amazon is taking the allegations seriously. The company’s Employee Relations Central Investigations unit told one of the Prime employees who filed a complaint that it was taking ownership of the case, according to an email seen by Insider. The team has asked the person to provide additional information about the issue.

“We appreciate you reporting these concerns and take them seriously,” the email said. “Your concerns will be investigated as appropriate.” An Amazon spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Last week, Insider reported on what some employees said was a culture of aggressive male-dominated leadership within Amazon’s Prime unit. Current and former employees described meetings where male leaders used aggressive language toward women. They also said women received fewer promotions than men, and recent internal company data showed only four out of a total of 41 senior leaders under Jamil Ghani, the vice president of Prime, are women.

When contacted earlier this month for comment, an Amazon spokesperson said the allegations did not reflect the culture of Amazon or the Prime team.

“We have worked hard to foster a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture in which all employees feel supported and successful within the Prime organization,” the spokesperson said, adding that the group aimed to double the number of women in leadership roles in 2021.

The allegations are the latest in a series of public accusations about Amazon’s workplace culture.

In May, five current and former female employees sued Amazon, alleging “abusive mistreatment by primarily white male managers.” In February, Charlotte Newman, a Black Amazon manager, filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment. And last year, a high-profile female engineer called on the company to fix what she said was a “harassment culture,” Insider previously reported.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company investigated the cases, found no evidence to support the allegations, and didn’t tolerate discrimination or harassment.

You can read Insider’s original story here.

Do you work at Amazon? Contact reporter Eugene Kim via encrypted messaging apps Signal/Telegram (+1-650-942-3061) or email (ekim@businessinsider.com).

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Why you need to be aware of your implicit biases to support your colleagues during stressful times

stress migraine
To support our colleagues through stressful times, we have to leave bias at the door.

  • Gender bias – the tendency to associate certain traits more so with one gender – can creep into work.
  • Everyone should be aware of their own biases to create a climate of trust for colleagues experiencing stress.
  • Be mindful of others, and don’t assume a colleague’s stress is due to being in a marginalized group.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Let’s say your colleague shows up for your Zoom meeting crying. When you ask what’s wrong, they share that they’re having a tough time balancing the demands of work with three young children at home, caregiving for aging parents, and dealing with a spouse who travels constantly for work.

So, what does this colleague look like? Did you picture a woman?

If so, you’re not alone. Like so many of us, you may have some implicit gender bias about things like who’s more likely to cry at work, who takes care of young children, or who is a caregiver for aging parents.

Gender bias is the tendency to associate certain traits with one gender over another. Sometimes, this means favoring one gender over the other. And gender bias is just one of many biases that we need to be aware of – and work on – to support our colleagues during stressful times.

But let me start with some good news if you’re struggling with the assumptions you made: If you have a brain, you have bias. We tend to think of bias as a bad thing, but it isn’t always.

Read more: I went through a divorce and months of unhappiness in my role before I hit my breaking point. Here’s how I put my life back together.

Bias is a natural byproduct of the way our brains work. Biases help us categorize objects so that we can quickly determine what’s safe and what isn’t. Biases help us make decisions more easily so that we don’t have to tap into our cognitive bandwidth every time we decide something. A bias toward eating more vegetables and less dessert is a healthy bias, for example.

For most of us, starting at a young age, we start to discriminate between those who are like us – the “in group” – and those who are not like us – the “out group.” Recognizing our in group can help us develop our sense of identity, belonging, security, and safety – but it can also lead to harmful prejudices.

As researcher Jennifer Eberhardt explains in her book, “Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do,” “at its root, bias is not an affliction that can be cured or banished. It’s a human condition that we have to understand and deal with.”

So, let’s look at some biases we should all be aware of, especially when creating a climate of openness and trust for our colleagues who are experiencing stress.

Be aware of discrimination and its effects

Chances are, you’re working with colleagues who are part of marginalized populations, which are groups that may experience discrimination because of unequal power relationships across economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions. Here are just a few:

  • LGBTQIA+ professionals
  • Senior citizens
  • Racial/cultural minorities
  • Military combat veterans
  • People with physical disabilities
  • People with mental illness, including substance abuse and other addiction disorders
  • People on the autism spectrum

Of course, your colleague doesn’t have to identify with one of these categories to be subject to discrimination. Perceived discrimination consistently has been shown to be associated with diminished mental health, and even the anticipation of discrimination can lead to higher stress levels. Constantly feeling on edge or unsure about how you’ll be treated can trigger a long-standing stress response.

Whether it’s related to ethnicity, sexual orientation, or beliefs, feeling undervalued and uncertain about the future directly impacts mental health now and in the future.

Learn about stereotypes and microaggressions

So what can we do about discrimination issues? We need to be mindful of our own stereotypes and microaggressions. Stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about a particular type of person or a group of people.

So, if you’re speaking with a woman about her stress, make sure you don’t assume that she’s the primary caregiver at home. If you’re speaking with a colleague with a disability about his stress, don’t assume that his stress is related to his disability.

And what about microaggressions? According to Columbia University’s Derald Wing Sue, “microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

So, if you’re speaking with a non-native English speaker about stress, don’t “compliment them” for being able to speak so clearly or fluently. If you’re speaking with a non-binary colleague about their stress, don’t say, “I can’t keep up with your latest pronouns.”

Finally, we shouldn’t assume that the stress a colleague of ours is experiencing right now is about their marginalized group experience. And we also shouldn’t assume that it isn’t. There’s more about other people’s experiences, cultures, and backgrounds than we can ever truly understand. So be thoughtful, careful, compassionate, and open to feedback about how you’re speaking and showing up for everyone – equitably.

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Google will pay $2.6 million to workers over claims its hiring and pay practices were biased against women and Asians

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Google is seen at an office building in Zurich, Switzerland July 1, 2020.   REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Logo of Google is seen at an office building in Zurich

Google has reached a deal with the US Department of Labor, requiring it to pay nearly $2.6 million in back wages to thousands of workers over claims that the company’s pay and hiring practices illegally disadvantaged women and Asians.

Google must also review its pay and hiring practices, conduct a gender pay equity study, and provide updates about its progress toward closing the gender pay gap as part of the deal, which was signed on January 15 and made public by the DOL on Monday. 

The department said that as part of an audit of several Google locations in Washington state, California, and New York, it had identified “preliminary indicators” that Google had failed to comply with a 1965 executive order that bars discrimination in the pay and hiring of federal contractors.

That audit revealed early evidence suggesting that, between 2014 and 2017, Google had paid female engineers at its Mountain View, California, as well as Seattle and Kirkland, Washington, locations “less than comparable male employees,” according to the DOL.

The agency also found evidence suggesting Google had discriminated against female and Asian applicants for engineering jobs at its San Francisco and Sunnyvale, California, locations as well as at the Kirkland facility.

“We believe everyone should be paid based upon the work they do, not who they are, and invest heavily to make our hiring and compensation processes fair and unbiased,” Google spokesperson Jennifer Rodstrom told Insider in a statement.

“For the past eight years, we have run annual internal pay equity analysis to identify and address any discrepancies. We’re pleased to have resolved this matter related to allegations from the 2014-2017 audits and remain committed to diversity and equity and to supporting our people in a way that allows them to do their best work,” Rodstrom added.

In total, around 2,565 women who worked at Google are eligible for back pay over wage discrimination allegations, while around 2,976 women and Asian applicants for Google jobs are eligible for back pay as a result of the alleged hiring discrimination.

In return for agreeing to the DOL’s “early resolution,” Google won’t have 39 of its facilities audited by the agency for five years, though the agency can still bring legal action if Google violates the agreement.

Google has faced allegations of racial and gender bias previously, including an ongoing class-action lawsuit over gender bias claims, and more recently, an employee rebellion over the company’s dismissal of AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru.

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