How Amazon Web Services puts inclusivity at the heart of its DNA

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) team won the Bronze Award for Best Female Leadership Program at the 2022 Employee Experience Awards, Singapore.

In this interview, Sandra Teh, Cultural Evangelist at Amazon Web Services, APJC, upholds the journey that earned this win – an employee-led program to provide a platform for women in tech to connect with like-minded peers; mentorship programs involving senior executives, and more.

Q Congratulations on the achievement! Could you explain to us the highs and lows of your winning strategy?

A big thank you to the organizing committee for recognizing AWS in the “Best Female Leadership Program” category, we are truly touched. Our main goal is to create an inclusive workplace so that employees, regardless of background or gender, can bring the best of their skills to build and invent on behalf of our clients.

The journey to hire the right talent is often a difficult one. At AWS, we’ve always over-indexed good recruiting, rather than fast recruiting. That’s why we created the Amazon Bar Raiser program, where we bring in an interviewer at Amazon (a Bar Raiser) who is not associated with the team, to be an objective third party during the hiring process. This ensures that the best long-term hiring decisions are made, and we hire new talent who is passionate about delighting, surprising, and building for clients.

Q Understanding and meeting the needs and expectations of your employees is never an easy task. How did AWS identify business and employee needs and craft the perfect solution?

We must constantly engage employees and listen to their concerns, aspirations and expectations. At AWS, we have a daily poll, where every Amazonian answers a work-related question. The data provides real-time insights and feedback to managers on how our employees are feeling.

In the context of empowering women in our workplaces, we reach out to them first to find out how we can improve their work experiences. After that, we ensure that subsequent programs address their challenges so that women feel welcome and empowered at work.

One of them is the AWS She Builds program. Conceptualized in 2017, She Builds is driven by our female employees who host industry conferences and workshops to provide a platform for women in tech to connect with like-minded peers and explore opportunities to grow their technical and strategic skills. This has also expanded to include mentorships throughout Asia-Pacific-Japan, with over 7,000 registrations to date.

Q How did the strategy add to the overall employee experience at AWS, in terms of ROI, when it came to fruition? Share with us the benefits of having such a strategy in place.

Our efforts continue to pay off and gain recognition within the industry: Amazon currently ranks second on Fortune’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies and has been selected by Fast Company as one of the best workplaces for innovators.

As we strive to achieve gender parity in technology, it will take approaches based on empathy, permission to learn and experiment, alliance and data to recruit, develop and retain talent .

Q Could you offer recommendations to your peers across industries to implement something similar for their own EX foundation?

More than an inclusion, diversity and equity policy or program, inclusivity must be at the heart of an organization’s DNA.

To increase the representation of women in tech, mentorship programs that are supported by and involve senior management are key to ensuring the success and representation of female talent on the board.

At AWS, one of our leadership principles is “Learn and be curious.” This is especially important for fostering inclusivity and instilling confidence in employees to try new things, with wide-scale acceptance of new ideas across the organization without questioning their gender, experience, or background. As an organization, we believe that a good idea can come from anyone, and we have the mechanisms in place to encourage – at any time – hundreds of good ideas from our builders.

Q If you had to think about it, what is one thing you would do differently in executing this strategy?

We are always looking for ways we could have done better or improved our efforts. One area is that we could have started some initiatives earlier or run smaller pilots before implementation. At Amazon, we believe in the Day 1 mindset where we treat every day at Amazon as if it were the first day of a new startup.

It means focusing on what the present and the future demand, making the best possible decisions in the present moment that might be different from what made sense before, so that we can continually meet current challenges and opportunities and stay agile and resilient.

To do this, we strive to have more conversations and ensure more two-way decisions instead of one-way decisions. We believe this is essential to encourage our employees to be even more courageous when it comes to experimenting and pursuing new ideas.

Q Going forward, how will AWS take this winning strategy further and further in the years to come?

If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it would be to be ready for anything, continually listen to our customers’ feedback, and see around corners before blind spots become obstacles.

While ensuring that we remain agile and resilient as an organization, we continually keep people at the center of everything we do. People remain the greatest strength of any organization, and so our investments in them must be our top priority. We ensure they have access to training and continuous development to stay on top of in-demand and industry-relevant skills, so they can innovate with confidence.

Q In 10 years, where do you see the future of HR?

At AWS, we will continue to focus on multicultural and multigenerational diversity, which I personally feel is really exciting! In 10 years, our early career talents will become seasoned technology professionals while our seasoned Amazonians will continue to develop our future talents, drawing on their rich experiences, while learning from their young peers.

As organizations continue to evolve with new technologies, ways of working, and business models, there will be inherent changes in workforce needs and demands. HR will continue to play a critical role in how organizations stay competitive in attracting and retaining talent. This would drive measurable value even as organizations increase the adoption of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and cognitive solutions. The crucial key ingredient, however, is continuously listening to our people to ensure we build and reinvent for our customers in ways that are relevant.


Photos / Supplied (with Sandra Teh)

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