April 30, 2014

Amazon employs 120 senior managers … 18 of them are women.


Hercules fights Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Image via Shutterstock.

Hercules fights Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Image via Shutterstock.

Oh Amazon, making us reconsider every sacred fact and doubt every certain truth. Everything we ever thought we knew about justice, profits and drones, you have shown to be false.

And last week it was the turn of language. My colleague Dustin grappled with a new verb, ‘to amazon’ something, and then on Friday, even the definition of the noun ‘Amazon’ proved hollow.

While once ‘Amazons’ referred to the race of women warriors of Scythia in Greek mythology (“those who fight like men”, as The Iliad puts it) and who lent their name to describe any strong, independent or aggressive woman who came after them, it now means quite the opposite. The word can now be defined as a company who out of 120 senior managers only employs 18 women, none of whom report to directly to Jeff Bezos. It now means a company devoid in its most upper echelons not only of strong women leaders, as its namesake suggests, but of any women at all.

The news comes via a leak from Amazon’s internal database, Phone Tool, an internal database that holds the name of every member of staff and lists their job title and the manager they report to. According to the Guardian, the new information revealed:

Amazon’s founder, chief executive and chairman, Jeff Bezos, runs the company through a select all-male group of 12, known internally as the S Team (Senior Team), who have a direct line to him. And the S Team themselves seem reluctant to employ women, according to a leak from an internal directory.

While I could think of other things ‘S Team’ could stand for ‘Sexist’? ‘Short-sighted’? ‘Stupid’?, this is no laughing matter, especially when you drill down to the basic numbers:

Including those who report directly to the S Team, there are 132 staff in total in the top two tiers at Amazon. But 13 of these are “executive assistants” and all are women. Out of the 119 senior managers, just 18 are female – 15% of the total – according to information compiled by an Amazon employee in Europe. There are two women on the Amazon board, both non-executive directors.

When women are in senior roles, the type of jobs they do is revealing. In the HR department there are 7 women among 13 managers, and most of these work in recruitment. In the UK, the most senior woman is HR director Laurie Arnold (but she doesn’t report directly to the British MD Christopher North). These roles suggest Amazon thinks women do best in caring, people-friendly roles, presumably to once and for all debunk the myth of the strong, powerful Amazons.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked, “Does publishing have a gender problem when it comes to digital?” and noted then that although gender representation —and influence— was not perfect in publishing, most company boards are dominated by men. Take a look at the current British Cabinet, for another example. It contains only four women; when ministers were recently left scrabbling around to appoint a new Minster for Women, they were so short of any they ended up appointing Nicky Morgan. A woman, yes, but one that voted against same-sex marriage.

The Guardian points out that gender balance continues to be a problem in the technology sector where:

Google has no women among its executive officers and one among the seven-strong second tier senior leadership team. Apple has an all-male team reporting to its chief executive, Tim Cook, although that will change next week with the arrival of Burberry boss Angela Ahrendts to head its retail operations. Microsoft scores higher – of 12 executives who report to Satya Nadella, two are women.

So Amazon is not alone in its gross underrepresentation. But its attitude towards women, if reports are to be believed, is astonishing. The S Team are ‘reluctant’ to add any women to their ranks, all 13 PAs are women (as though this supportive, administrative role was the reserve of women) and according to the inside source: “At Amazon there is a strong feeling that there is a glass ceiling for women who want to progress above senior manager or director level.”

Jeff Bezos is known to react vehemently against any customer complaint Amazon receives. His response is to forward the complaint in an email to the individual in charge of the offending department, to which he adds only a single question mark. The individual must then resolve the issue as quickly as possible, receiving a smiley face from Bezos once the matter has been dealt with.

Hey, Jeff:



Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.