The chief suing Amazon Internet Providers: ‘I wouldn’t need my worst enemy working there’ – The Guardian

Cindy Warner noticed a promising profession on the cloud computing firm. What she discovered, she says, was ‘poisonous’
Final modified on Tue 16 Nov 2021 14.52 EST
When Cindy Warner joined Amazon Internet Providers in February 2020, she noticed it as a chance to extend variety and reshape the corporate’s technique. She remembers how AWS “aggressively” recruited her, providing a fast path to higher-level roles and higher pay.
However simply over a yr after she joined, the promising job had turn out to be a nightmare.

Warner, a tech government with 30 years of expertise, stated she had confronted pay discrimination and an underlying tradition of sexism and homophobia. She sued the cloud computing firm in Could 2021 – alleging that male executives at AWS handled her with “open contempt, insults, and hostility” and upheld a “white boys’ membership” – and claims she was fired shortly after.
“I actually wouldn’t need my worst enemy to work at Amazon,” she instructed the Guardian, describing the office as “poisonous” and alleging she was focused for her work mentoring girls and efforts to extend variety and inclusion.
Her lawsuit is one in all a number of Amazon is at present going through over allegations of office discrimination, and it underscores the challenges girls face from the underside to the highest of the tech business.
“This exhibits at Amazon, it doesn’t matter you probably have numerous energy on paper – the tradition goes to impression you no matter whether or not you’re a high-powered government or a lowly software program engineer,” stated Veena Dubal, a labor regulation professor on the College of California, Hastings. “On the finish of the day, you aren’t actually protected.”
An Amazon spokesperson, Jaci Anderson, stated the corporate disputed Warner’s account and that it had performed a radical investigation and “discovered her allegations to be unsubstantiated”. (Warner has criticized the integrity of the AWS investigation.)
Anderson stated Warner’s characterization of the circumstances below which she left AWS was “not correct”, saying Warner had been inspired to search out one other function throughout the firm earlier than her employment was terminated.
“Amazon strives on daily basis to be a high employer for girls and traditionally underrepresented minorities,” Anderson stated. “We proceed to make progress in constructing a extra numerous workforce, with a give attention to growing the illustration of ladies in technical roles.”
Warner began her function in February 2020 as a “international chief” in Amazon’s skilled providers group, ProServe, which promotes the corporate’s cloud-computing expertise to company clients.
Amazon, like many tech firms, categorizes staff into tiers of duty and pay. Warner was one in all few feminine executives at her degree within the division, she stated, and in accordance with the lawsuit she was employed at a decrease tier than she felt she certified for.
Warner stated she had shortly detected a “pervasive” tradition of sexism. “It wasn’t only one particular person, it wasn’t only one group – it was actually all over the place,” she stated.
Warner alleges within the lawsuit that though the function was beneath her degree of expertise, she was repeatedly blocked from making use of for promotions due to her gender, leading to misplaced earnings of “tens of millions of {dollars}”.
Amazon disputes that Warner was promised a path to a higher-level function and stated staff don’t “apply” for promotions however are as a substitute superior by an inside evaluation course of.
Warner claims that her male friends and colleagues continuously dismissed and harassed her. In a single incident named within the swimsuit, a colleague at AWS allegedly known as Warner “disgusting names equivalent to a ‘bitch’, an ‘fool’, and a ‘no person’”.
Amazon claims its investigation discovered the account of “derogatory language” was unfaithful, and that the phrases cited within the swimsuit weren’t used.
Relatively than being disciplined, the lawsuit alleges, the male AWS worker who berated Warner was finally promoted into the identical function she had been discouraged from pursuing. Warner, in the meantime, remained at a decrease place and compensation.
“Amazon permits its managers, once more seemingly in a misguided effort to guard the underside line, to run amok and mistreat staff, significantly girls and folks of coloration, even once they arrive close to the highest of the Firm’s company ladder,” stated Lawrence Pearson, an lawyer at Wigdor LLP, the agency behind the swimsuit.
Warner stated her misgivings concerning the firm tradition had begun to solidify after a former worker, Laudon Williams, revealed a blogpost on LinkedIn in August 2020 entitled “Why I Left AWS”.
Within the publish, he outlined a lot of systemic discrimination points at Amazon Internet Providers, claiming he had “personally heard an [executive-level employee] utilizing homophobic language”.
He additionally cited a “well-known incident in skilled providers” through which a frontrunner instructed a variety group that they wanted to cease making excuses and “combine higher”. Williams claimed AWS “exhibits no real interest in addressing the problems”.
Anderson, the Amazon spokeswoman, stated the corporate had investigated and was unable to substantiate points raised within the publish.
The publish had prompted “fairly a blowup” internally, Warner stated. However as a substitute of reflecting on the allegations, Warner stated, the corporate had gone on the defensive. One Black worker who introduced up the blogpost to executives was “verbally assaulted” for rocking the boat. That lady was finally “so demoralized” she give up the function and relocated to a different part of Amazon, Warner stated.
Warner described such responses as typical for the corporate.
“I’ve by no means in my profession seen an organization so unwilling to be introspective – an organization that has such outrage as a substitute of self-reflection within the face of criticism,” she stated.
Amazon disputes the account of backlash to the LinkedIn publish, saying no person was “verbally assaulted” when it was introduced as much as leaders in a office assembly, however that the worker in query was discouraged from discussing it at the moment.
Warner’s swimsuit is the most recent in a rising variety of circumstances lifting the veil on sexism in any respect ranges of Silicon Valley. It comes simply six years after the tech investor Ellen Pao introduced a gender discrimination lawsuit towards her former employers on the enterprise capital agency Kleiner Perkins – one which “paved the way in which for whistleblowing in Silicon Valley”, in accordance with Dubal.
“As extra folks whistleblow, they’re seeing how these points are interconnected in some ways,” Dubal stated. “And that might have an enduring impression on whether or not these firms really change the tradition.”
Immediately after Pao’s case, Tina Huang filed a swimsuit towards Twitter alleging its promotion system unfairly favored male staff, and the previous Fb worker Chia Hong filed a swimsuit towards Fb alleging sexual and racial discrimination.
In December 2020, Pinterest paid a document $20m settlement in a gender discrimination swimsuit introduced by a feminine government who alleged “rampant discrimination, hostile work surroundings, and misogyny” on the San Francisco firm.
And Warner isn’t the one one alleging dangerous conduct at Amazon. The regulation agency dealing with her case is at present pursuing lawsuits from 5 different staff, together with Charlotte Newman, an Amazon Internet Providers senior supervisor who has alleged each sexism and racist conduct.
Newman, who’s Black, claims in her lawsuit that Amazon fails to advertise Black staff, and recounts being “groped” by a director on the firm throughout a piece dinner.
Amazon stated it had reviewed Newman’s profession path on the firm and decided “she was correctly positioned in her function”. Her harassment allegations had been “instantly” investigated and the assailant she recognized was fired, in accordance with Anderson.
However legal professionals for Newman and Warner stated these processes weren’t swift or thorough sufficient: “Girls and staff of coloration in any respect ranges of Amazon have had their complaints of harassment and discrimination brushed below the rug,” Pearson stated.
Amazon stated this characterization of its processes was “not correct” and that its code of conduct and ethics established a zero-tolerance coverage concerning discrimination or harassment.
The current wave of complaints has prompted a backlash inside Amazon. The LinkedIn publish from Williams, in addition to Warner’s swimsuit, had been cited in an inside petition at Amazon Internet Providers that was signed by greater than 1,000 staff in July 2021, demanding an unbiased investigation to be accomplished by November.
In response, the AWS chief government, Adam Selipsky, emailed the petition’s authors to substantiate the corporate would examine the allegations by an out of doors agency, although he didn’t decide to a timeframe. Anderson, the Amazon spokesperson, stated that investigation was persevering with and {that a} date for completion had not been confirmed.
The scrutiny of Amazon Internet Providers has put Andy Jassy – a former AWS government who took over for Jeff Bezos as CEO of Amazon in July 2021 – below the microscope.
Warner stated she had written Jassy instantly about her plight in an try to avoid wasting her job, however the letter was “all however ignored”. Amazon has stated HR management responded to her letter and requested her to conduct communication by attorneys “as is frequent observe throughout lively litigation”.
“The truth that Jassy was promoted from a specific sector at Amazon that was recognized to have a tradition of misogyny and sexism doesn’t communicate effectively for the path the corporate goes,” Dubal, the regulation professor, stated.
Requested about Jassy’s management, LaDavia Drane, the pinnacle of inclusion, variety and fairness at AWS, stated that the Amazon division “has at all times operated with the idea that extra numerous groups create higher outcomes”.
“Our group is constant to push on daily basis to create a extra inclusive tradition, and that features us pushing ahead to actively spend money on and retain girls inside our group,” she stated.
Warner stated she continued to obtain inquiries from former staff at Amazon and different tech corporations asking for recommendation on related allegations. Almost six months after submitting the lawsuit, she continues to be job looking, saying the expertise left her cautious of getting into related roles within the tech business.
“After what I might take into account has been a really storied profession, this has been a horror present, and I relive it on daily basis,” Warner stated. “Whenever you undergo one thing like this, it actually modifications you. It doesn’t go away.”