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 possibility to extend range 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 develop into a nightmare.

Warner, a tech govt with 30 years of expertise, mentioned she had confronted pay discrimination and an underlying tradition of sexism and homophobia. She sued the cloud computing firm in Might 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 really wouldn’t need my worst enemy to work at Amazon,” she advised the Guardian, describing the office as “poisonous” and alleging she was focused for her work mentoring ladies and efforts to extend range and inclusion.
Her lawsuit is one in all a number of Amazon is at the moment dealing with over allegations of office discrimination, and it underscores the challenges ladies face from the underside to the highest of the tech trade.
“This reveals at Amazon, it doesn’t matter if in case you have a whole lot of energy on paper – the tradition goes to affect you no matter whether or not you’re a high-powered govt or a lowly software program engineer,” mentioned Veena Dubal, a labor legislation professor on the College of California, Hastings. “On the finish of the day, you aren’t actually protected.”
An Amazon spokesperson, Jaci Anderson, mentioned the corporate disputed Warner’s account and that it had carried out an intensive investigation and “discovered her allegations to be unsubstantiated”. (Warner has criticized the integrity of the AWS investigation.)
Anderson mentioned Warner’s characterization of the circumstances underneath which she left AWS was “not correct”, saying Warner had been inspired to seek out one other function throughout the firm earlier than her employment was terminated.
“Amazon strives each day to be a prime employer for ladies and traditionally underrepresented minorities,” Anderson mentioned. “We proceed to make progress in constructing a extra various workforce, with a concentrate on rising the illustration of ladies in technical roles.”
Warner began her function in February 2020 as a “international chief” in Amazon’s skilled companies group, ProServe, which promotes the corporate’s cloud-computing know-how to company prospects.
Amazon, like many tech corporations, categorizes employees into tiers of duty and pay. Warner was one in all few feminine executives at her stage within the division, she mentioned, and in line with the lawsuit she was employed at a decrease tier than she felt she certified for.
Warner mentioned she had rapidly detected a “pervasive” tradition of sexism. “It wasn’t only one particular person, it wasn’t only one group – it was actually in every single place,” she mentioned.
Warner alleges within the lawsuit that though the function was beneath her stage of expertise, she was repeatedly blocked from making use of for promotions due to her gender, leading to misplaced revenue of “thousands and thousands of {dollars}”.
Amazon disputes that Warner was promised a path to a higher-level function and mentioned staff don’t “apply” for promotions however are as a substitute superior by means of an inner assessment course of.
Warner claims that her male friends and colleagues regularly dismissed and harassed her. In a single incident named within the swimsuit, a colleague at AWS allegedly referred to as Warner “disgusting names corresponding 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.
Fairly than being disciplined, the lawsuit alleges, the male AWS worker who berated Warner was in the end 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 ladies and other people of coloration, even after they arrive close to the highest of the Firm’s company ladder,” mentioned Lawrence Pearson, an lawyer at Wigdor LLP, the agency behind the swimsuit.
Warner mentioned 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 variety 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 companies” wherein a pacesetter advised a range group that they wanted to cease making excuses and “combine higher”. Williams claimed AWS “reveals little interest in addressing the problems”.
Anderson, the Amazon spokeswoman, mentioned the corporate had investigated and was unable to substantiate points raised within the publish.
The publish had prompted “fairly a blowup” internally, Warner mentioned. However as a substitute of reflecting on the allegations, Warner mentioned, 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 in the end “so demoralized” she give up the function and relocated to a different part of Amazon, Warner mentioned.
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 mentioned.
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 in opposition to her former employers on the enterprise capital agency Kleiner Perkins – one which “paved the best way for whistleblowing in Silicon Valley”, in line with Dubal.
“As extra individuals whistleblow, they’re seeing how these points are interconnected in some ways,” Dubal mentioned. “And that might have an enduring affect on whether or not these corporations truly change the tradition.”
Immediately after Pao’s case, Tina Huang filed a swimsuit in opposition to Twitter alleging its promotion system unfairly favored male staff, and the previous Fb worker Chia Hong filed a swimsuit in opposition to Fb alleging sexual and racial discrimination.
In December 2020, Pinterest paid a file $20m settlement in a gender discrimination swimsuit introduced by a feminine govt who alleged “rampant discrimination, hostile work surroundings, and misogyny” on the San Francisco firm.
And Warner isn’t the one one alleging dangerous habits at Amazon. The legislation agency dealing with her case is at the moment pursuing lawsuits from 5 different staff, together with Charlotte Newman, an Amazon Internet Providers senior supervisor who has alleged each sexism and racist habits.
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 mentioned it had reviewed Newman’s profession path on the firm and decided “she was correctly positioned in her function”. Her harassment allegations have been “instantly” investigated and the assailant she recognized was fired, in line with Anderson.
However attorneys for Newman and Warner mentioned these processes weren’t swift or thorough sufficient: “Ladies and staff of coloration in any respect ranges of Amazon have had their complaints of harassment and discrimination brushed underneath the rug,” Pearson mentioned.
Amazon mentioned this characterization of its processes was “not correct” and that its code of conduct and ethics established a zero-tolerance coverage relating to 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, have been cited in an inner 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 govt, Adam Selipsky, emailed the petition’s authors to substantiate the corporate would examine the allegations by means of an outdoor agency, although he didn’t decide to a timeframe. Anderson, the Amazon spokesperson, mentioned 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 govt who took over for Jeff Bezos as CEO of Amazon in July 2021 – underneath the microscope.
Warner mentioned she had written Jassy straight about her plight in an try to save lots of her job, however the letter was “all however ignored”. Amazon has mentioned HR management responded to her letter and requested her to conduct communication by means of attorneys “as is frequent observe throughout energetic litigation”.
“The truth that Jassy was promoted from a specific sector at Amazon that was identified to have a tradition of misogyny and sexism doesn’t converse nicely for the route the corporate goes,” Dubal, the legislation professor, mentioned.
Requested about Jassy’s management, LaDavia Drane, the top of inclusion, range and fairness at AWS, mentioned that the Amazon division “has all the time operated with the idea that extra various groups create higher outcomes”.
“Our group is constant to push each day to create a extra inclusive tradition, and that features us pushing ahead to actively spend money on and retain ladies inside our group,” she mentioned.
Warner mentioned she continued to obtain inquiries from former staff at Amazon and different tech companies 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 coming into related roles within the tech trade.
“After what I might think about has been a really storied profession, this has been a horror present, and I relive it each day,” Warner mentioned. “Whenever you undergo one thing like this, it actually adjustments you. It doesn’t go away.”