In a leaked recording, an Amazon exec told employees the company will double Black leaders this year and ban 'non-inclusive' language from documents (AMZN)

Jeff BezosMandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

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Amazon plans to double the number of Black leaders in its senior ranks this year and next year, while removing what's considered "non-inclusive" language in internal engineering documents, Business Insider has learned.

In a recording of an internal all-hands meeting held last week, reviewed by Business Insider, Amazon's head of global diversity, equity and inclusion Elizabeth Nieto told employees that the company has set new "aggressive goals" around workplace diversity to ensure it's "uplifting all underrepresented groups" at Amazon. 

The decision was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, she said, adding that the countrywide protest has "reignited a critical conversation about the longstanding problem of systemic racism in our society and the impact that has been felt by the Black community for generations."

"This is a really important topic and has been top of mind for not just our team, but for every team across the company," Nieto said during the meeting. "We know there is more work to do and I am committed to ensuring we maintain that focus."

The change is an important step forward for Amazon, which has been criticized for the lack of diversity in its workforce for years, especially among the most senior leaders. It also follows an industrywide movement to address diversity issues in tech, including Microsoft's June announcement to double the number of its Black leaders by 2025.

Amazon has a long way to go to increase Black representation within the company. As of the end of last year, over 80% of Amazon's managerial roles around the world were held by either white or Asian people, while Black people accounted for just 8.3% of those positions, according to company data. The portion of Black employees jumps to 26.5% for Amazon's entire workforce, but the bulk of it includes lower-paying jobs across its warehouse and delivery network.

Amazon has been on a hiring spree lately. It now employees 1.12 million people, up 50% from the year-ago period, marking the first time it's had over 1 million employees. It's unclear exactly how many employees comprise the Black manager base, as Amazon doesn't disclose specific numbers. 

In an email to Business Insider, Amazon's spokesperson confirmed the initiatives, saying they're part of the company's "long-term efforts in diversity and inclusion." 

"As part of this work, we are setting aggressive goals as part of our ongoing effort to be a top employer for Black employees," the spokesperson told Business Insider.

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Three focus areas

Nieto said Amazon is starting with commitments in the following three areas this year:

  • Doubling Black representation: Amazon plans to double the number of its Black VPs and directors in 2020, and then again in 2021. Nieto said this will be accomplished through a mix of hiring and promotions of leaders across the company. Amazon is on track to meeting this goal in 2020.
  • Removing non-inclusive language: Amazon will stop using certain technical terms in engineering documents that can be unconsciously racist toward some people. It's starting with the ban of six terms by the end of 2020, including "white/black lists," "master and slave," and "black/white days."
  • Launch of a new DEI training program: Amazon is rolling out a new global training program based on "up-to-date information on inclusion and racial equity through a global lens" this year. It will be part of a new on-boarding process for new hires, and required for all current employees.

These initiatives were first revealed at an earlier company town hall meeting hosted by Amazon's retail CEO Jeff Wilke and cloud boss Andy Jassy, as well as an internal affinity group called Black Employee Network, Nieto said. The high urgency and demand addressing this issue was reflected in the employee response to the town hall meeting, she said, as more than 5,000 people tuned in to the live session, and over 10,000 people have watched the video since then.

"While our diversity, equity, and inclusion work is not new, we've definitely put in renewed energy behind these initiatives as a way to meet the moment," Nieto said.

The move comes after repeated calls by Amazon employees to more proactively address racial bias and discrimination at the company. 

In 2017, an employee asked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos during an internal all-hands meeting why there are so few female or minority leaders in his top leadership suite called the "S-team." (he blamed the low turnover). Amazon ended up adding a number of women and minority leaders to the S-team this year, including its first Black female member.

Amazon employees also have started an internal petition this year to get "inclusion" added to the company's famous leadership principles, as Business Insider previously reported. It's unclear how much progress the movement has made, but the company has previously said that inclusion is already broadly reflected in its leadership principles (though it's not mentioned separately).

Amazon's idea to ban non-inclusive language seems inspired by an internal employee movement that created a list of unconsciously biased words and how to replace them, as previously reported by Business Insider. The list, created in June, includes dozens of words and phrases that may have negative connotations implied by the use of color, or that have a specific history that relates to racial discrimination.

Amazon's board of directors has a better record in terms of diversity. Last year, it added Starbucks executive Rosalind Brewer to its board, making her the second black woman to ever sit on its board of directors. It also added former Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi to the board last year, and now has five women on its 11-member board. The changes followed Amazon's pledge to adopt the National Football League-inspired "Rooney Rule," which requires the company to interview minority candidates for the board.

Amazon leaders also showed public support for Black Lives Matter movement this year. Bezos shared a number of social media posts disparaging racial injustice, while Wilke shared his personal thoughts with his team in an internal email in June, as Business Insider previously reported.

"It has become painfully obvious to me that many Black people don't have a sense of security or even feel safe, regardless of their job, their education, or where they live," Wilke wrote at the time. "I thought I was doing my part and contributing to positive change. It's so clear now that my actions weren't nearly enough."

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SEE ALSO: Leaked emails show a high-profile engineer left Amazon after filing sexual harassment claims to HR in 2018. Now she's speaking out about what she calls a 'toxic' work culture for women.

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