A former Amazon employee has come forward to support claims of a nasty male-driven work culture festering within the online retail juggernaut.
Julia Cheiffetz, who worked at Amazon from 2011 to 2014 as Amazon Publishing editorial director, claims she was essentially forced out of the company after returning from five months maternity, during which time she battled cancer.
Cheiffetz, who wrote about her experience in an essay for blog site Medium, was reacting to the controversy sparked by a New York Times investigation into the "shockingly callous management practices" at Amazon, amid reports of workers regularly crying at their desks and being judged harshly for not putting in long work hours.
Cheiffetz was hired by Amazon to work as a book editor in their New York City office, charged with finding and publishing original new content. However, six weeks after the birth of her daughter, she was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy.
During her treatment, Cheiffetz says she received a letter saying her health insurance had been terminated and, panic-stricken, sought help from Amazon.
In her blog, she writes:
"After my surgery, while I was still on maternity leave, I received a form letter saying that the health insurance provided by my employer had been terminated. Dozens of panicked emails and phone calls later, the whole thing was, I was told, a glitch in the system. After a week of back and forth, I was offered COBRA coverage, by which point I had already switched to my husband's insurance, where I remained for the duration of my care. I chalked it up to a horrendous administrative error but remain disappointed that a company of Amazon's size didn't have better mechanisms in place to prevent something like that from happening during an employee's maternity leave.
"After a five-month leave, I was nervous and excited to return to work, and I showed up that first day back with a big smile and a phone full of baby pictures to share. I figured I'd catch up with folks and get a high-level update on how the business was doing, since the strategy had evolved from the time I was hired. Here's what happened instead: I was taken to lunch by a woman I barely knew. Over Cobb salad she calmly explained that all but one of my direct reports - the people I had hired - were now reporting to her. In the months that followed, I was placed on a dubious performance improvement plan, or PIP, a signal at Amazon that your employment is at risk. Not long after that I resigned."
After The New York Times expose was published, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos hit back by sending an email to to his roughly 180,000 employees. "The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. You can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org."
Cheiffetz, who now works for book publisher Harper Collins, chose to take Bezos up on the offer in her email:
"Jeff: You asked for direct feedback. Women power your retail engine. They buy diapers. They buy books. They buy socks for their husbands on Prime. On behalf of all the people who want to speak up but can't: Please, make Amazon a more hospitable place for women and parents. Reevaluate your parental leave policies. You can't claim to be a data-driven company and not release more specific numbers on how many women and people of colour."
New York news site Gothamist reported that Cheiffetz's essay supports one of the testimonies in the Times piece by former Amazon worker Michelle Williamson, who noted that, unlike its contemporaries and competitors like Google and Walmart, Amazon "does not currently have a single woman on its top leadership team".
The article said Williamson, a 41-year-old mother-of-three, who worked to build Amazon's restaurant supply business, said her manager, Shahrul Ladue, had told her that raising children would most likely prevent her from success at a higher level because of the long hours required.
Ladue, who confirmed her account, said that Williamson had been directly competing with younger colleagues with fewer commitments, so he suggested she find a less demanding job at Amazon. Williamson then left the company.
- Daily Mail