Even in a technology industry rife with gender disparity, Amazon’s leadership group stands out among the most powerful companies for being almost exclusively an all-boys club.
Of the company’s 18 most powerful executives, 17 are men. At the top sits Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his two deputies: Jeff Wilke, the CEO of its consumer business, and Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services.
Below them is Amazon’s exclusive tier of 15 senior vice presidents. This group includes Jeff Blackburn, the company’s entertainment head, and David Limp, who oversees the Amazon devices division responsible for projects like the Echo and Alexa.
The only woman in the group is Beth Galetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of human resources.
The dynamic at Amazon’s highest ranks has not become a major narrative over the last few years, even as Amazon’s power has grown and the technology industry has come under fire for being dominated mainly by white men.
But as Amazon deals with the aftermath of a sexual harassment scandal involving its now-former studio head Roy Price, new questions are being raised internally about how the company can justify having so few women in top leadership programs.
“Some current and former employees are suggesting that the scarcity of women at the upper echelons of Amazon could have made the company more lenient toward Mr. Price until his actions became a public relations embarrassment,” The New York Times reported on Friday evening.
Several current and former employees have told Recode the same. (Those who want to discuss these issues on the record or confidentially can email me at email@example.com, or reach me on secure messaging apps at 917-655-4267.)
A report by The Information last month disclosed that back in 2015, Amazon had known about and investigated accusations by producer Isa Hackett that Price had harassed her. But only after Hackett went public with the graphic details of the incident did Amazon suspend Price, who resigned shortly thereafter.
Amazon declined a request by Recode to make Bezos or any executive available for an interview about the company’s diversity efforts. Instead, the company released what comes across as a pretty generic statement from diversity director Latasha Gillespie:
At Amazon we are working to diversify our company from several different angles. We are seeking to recruit more diverse leaders across the company — from our entry level roles to our most senior positions. We are focused on retaining and developing diverse talent internally through training and leadership opportunities. And we want to ensure our work environment is inclusive — so we are looking for more ways to surface and listen to diverse perspectives. Our employees are committed to our Leadership Principles, which includes seeking diverse perspectives and working to disconfirm their own beliefs. Amazonians – including our most senior executives – are focused on continuing to build a more diverse and inclusive company.
One thing I thought Amazon might point out is that there are several women running important parts of the company at the level below the senior vice presidents. They include Toni Reid, a vice president overseeing Alexa; Stephenie Landry, a VP who runs Prime Now; and Jennifer Cast, the vice president running the company’s Amazon Books retail-store initiative.
However, it doesn’t seem clear to the employees Recode spoke to if or how these VPs might ever reach the SVP level, where they might have a more direct line to Bezos.
Even including a layer of management below SVPs, 74 percent of Amazon executives are white men. That compares to 68 percent at Apple, 65 percent at Google, and 51 percent at Facebook, according to a recent Recode report.
The Times article revealed that Bezos was asked about the lack of gender and racial diversity among Amazon’s leaders at a recent all-hands meeting. His response, according to the report, was that improvements would take time because of how infrequently top executives leave the company.
That answer did not satisfy many employees.