The manager suing Amazon Net Companies: ‘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 Net Companies 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 12 months after she joined, the promising job had change into 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 really 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 ladies and efforts to extend variety and inclusion.
Her lawsuit is one in every of a number of Amazon is presently dealing with over allegations of office discrimination, and it underscores the challenges ladies face from the underside to the highest of the tech business.
“This reveals at Amazon, it doesn’t matter in case you have a variety of 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 carried out 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 beneath which she left AWS was “not correct”, saying Warner had been inspired to seek out one other position throughout the firm earlier than her employment was terminated.
“Amazon strives every single day to be a prime employer for ladies and traditionally underrepresented minorities,” Anderson stated. “We proceed to make progress in constructing a extra various workforce, with a give attention to growing the illustration of girls in technical roles.”
Warner began her position in February 2020 as a “world chief” in Amazon’s skilled providers group, ProServe, which promotes the corporate’s cloud-computing know-how to company clients.
Amazon, like many tech firms, categorizes employees into tiers of duty and pay. Warner was one in every of few feminine executives at her stage within the division, she stated, and in response to the lawsuit she was employed at a decrease tier than she felt she certified for.
Warner stated 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 all places,” she stated.
Warner alleges within the lawsuit that though the position was under her stage 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 position and stated workers don’t “apply” for promotions however are as a substitute superior by means of an inside assessment course of.
Warner claims that her male friends and colleagues steadily dismissed and harassed her. In a single incident named within the swimsuit, a colleague at AWS allegedly referred to as Warner “disgusting names comparable to a ‘bitch’, an ‘fool’, and a ‘no one’”.
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 in the end promoted into the identical position 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 workers, notably ladies and other people 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 in regards to the firm tradition had begun to solidify after a former worker, Laudon Williams, printed a blogpost on LinkedIn in August 2020 entitled “Why I Left AWS”.
Within the submit, he outlined quite a few systemic discrimination points at Amazon Net Companies, 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 pacesetter instructed a variety group that they wanted to cease making excuses and “combine higher”. Williams claimed AWS “reveals 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 submit.
The submit 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 girl was in the end “so demoralized” she give up the position 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 submit, saying no one 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 newest in a rising variety of instances 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 best way for whistleblowing in Silicon Valley”, in response to Dubal.
“As extra individuals whistleblow, they’re seeing how these points are interconnected in some ways,” Dubal stated. “And that might have a long-lasting impression on whether or not these firms truly change the tradition.”
Straight after Pao’s case, Tina Huang filed a swimsuit towards Twitter alleging its promotion system unfairly favored male workers, and the previous Fb worker Chia Hong filed a swimsuit towards Fb alleging sexual and racial discrimination.
In December 2020, Pinterest paid a file $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 unhealthy habits at Amazon. The regulation agency dealing with her case is presently pursuing lawsuits from 5 different workers, together with Charlotte Newman, an Amazon Net Companies senior supervisor who has alleged each sexism and racist habits.
Newman, who’s Black, claims in her lawsuit that Amazon fails to advertise Black workers, 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 position”. Her harassment allegations have been “instantly” investigated and the assailant she recognized was fired, in response to Anderson.
However attorneys for Newman and Warner stated these processes weren’t swift or thorough sufficient: “Ladies and workers of coloration in any respect ranges of Amazon have had their complaints of harassment and discrimination brushed beneath 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 relating to discrimination or harassment.
The latest wave of complaints has prompted a backlash inside Amazon. The LinkedIn submit from Williams, in addition to Warner’s swimsuit, have been cited in an inside petition at Amazon Net Companies that was signed by greater than 1,000 workers in July 2021, demanding an impartial investigation to be accomplished by November.
In response, the AWS chief government, Adam Selipsky, emailed the petition’s authors to verify the corporate would examine the allegations by means of an outdoor 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 Net Companies has put Andy Jassy – a former AWS government who took over for Jeff Bezos as CEO of Amazon in July 2021 – beneath 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 means of attorneys “as is frequent apply throughout energetic litigation”.
“The truth that Jassy was promoted from a selected sector at Amazon that was identified to have a tradition of misogyny and sexism doesn’t converse properly for the route the corporate goes,” Dubal, the regulation professor, stated.
Requested about Jassy’s management, LaDavia Drane, the top of inclusion, variety and fairness at AWS, stated that the Amazon division “has at all times operated with the assumption that extra various groups create higher outcomes”.
“Our group is continuous to push every single 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 stated.
Warner stated she continued to obtain inquiries from former workers at Amazon and different tech companies asking for recommendation on comparable allegations. Practically six months after submitting the lawsuit, she continues to be job looking, saying the expertise left her cautious of getting into comparable roles within the tech business.
“After what I’d take into account has been a really storied profession, this has been a horror present, and I relive it every single day,” Warner stated. “Once you undergo one thing like this, it actually adjustments you. It doesn’t go away.”