Amazon employee Katie George explains how Amazon has embraced her differences

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Amazon understands the value of diversity

Amazon understands the value of diversity

 February 26, 2019

Katie George is an EMEA Student Programs Lead at Amazon. She was born in Swaziland to a white British father and a famous singer from Soweto. However, when Katie studied at a UK university, she started to have an experience of feeling different. Katie shared insights with Diversity Q about her career at Amazon and how the company has embraced diversity as the key to success.

An experience of being different

Katie explains that she had a privileged childhood in an underprivileged country yet, when her and her mum moved to the UK, Katie started to realise the financial difficulties of her family. And when she started her psychology degree at Warwick, she began to understand the meaning of diversity and what made her different from the other students.

"This proved to be both an obstacle and an advantage. I was referred to as the girl with the afro…because out of 20,000+ students, no other girl had one!" says Katie. "It was at university when I started thinking about how I could create positive change for others and celebrate the international students I studied and lived with."

A culture that embraces diversity

For Katie, the workplace culture at Amazon was different to the environment at Warwick. At Amazon, Katie has the freedom to speak out, be a leader and, most importantly, be herself. Amazon creates an environment where people can support one another, learn from one another, embrace diversity and strengthen connections between people. 

"Not to mention that I can wear the bright pink socks that were frowned upon by previous employers (not that it stopped me wearing them!). At Amazon, it really is not about what you wear, but about what you have to say," adds Katie.

Diversity as an advantage

Katie believes that being a woman of colour is a major advantage in a corporate environment. She looks different, so she is more memorable, which means she can more easily foster connections with other employees. Her heritage is also a great conversation starter, especially due to her South African and English mix - people are always curious about her history and her journey. 

Katie explains that companies with a more diverse workforce will have more success. Diverse companies will attract better talent, have a stronger brand, and improve employee satisfaction.

Diversity is also the key to innovation in terms of producing new ideas and creating a better connection with customers, something which is vital for Amazon.

"Innovation can happen anywhere and, without a diverse workforce, opportunities could be missed. Diverse teams are better prepared to spot opportunities from a variety of sources and inputs. Just having a diverse team, however, isn’t enough," says Katie.

"You also need an inclusive environment and the capacity to receive and act on feedback. Inclusivity is important because a diverse workforce must feel comfortable in order to contribute ideas. Additionally, it’s important to encourage everybody to contribute to the creative process in order to think and act innovatively."

"Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace culture means that those voices are not only confident in speaking up, but that they are heard, and their recommendations are properly considered."

As companies become more global, diverse perspectives are vital, and so Katie urges companies to foster a workplace culture where people feel confident and comfortable to make their voices heard.

Finding the best talent

Part of Katie's job involves going to countries like South Africa, Poland, Ireland, Germany and the US to attract and retaining the best graduates regardless of their background. Katie also leads a diverse team of recruiters, co-ordinators and recruitment managers.

"We encourage an open team culture where we listen to our whole team, regardless of role, and use feedback to improve processes. In fact, some of our best ideas have come from the newest team members," explains Katie.

"While ‘inclusion’ may feel like a term used so loosely it risks losing its meaning, it is an integral part of our business and a key ingredient in creating a workplace where innovation can thrive."

A fair and thorough recruitment process

Part of Katie's recruitment process includes encouraging unconscious bias, both from recruiters and from candidates.

"For example, when recruiting at Amazon, interviews focus on our Leadership Principles. Each interviewer assesses the candidate on a couple of Leadership Principles such as the candidate’s ‘bias for action’ or whether they ‘insist on high standards’," explains Katie. "This is written up methodically based on STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result), and submitted without the interviewers knowing what the other has submitted until they meet to discuss the results."

Katie makes sure they do not base their recruitment solely on what university the candidate studied at as there are often qualities found beyond university rankings: grit and an entrepreneurial outlook.

"Limiting our pool of talent is not what we are about," adds Katie.

A strong support network

Once an employee starts at Amazon, the culture of inclusion continues.

"Our Leadership Principles are applied throughout the business, every day – in fact we apply them to everything, from new projects and ideas to employee performance reviews and promotion opportunities. By working towards a universal standard, that culture of inclusion becomes habitual," says Katie.

Amazon also has many employee-led affinity groups that seek to meet the needs of everyone working at Amazon. These include the Black Employee Network, glamazon, People With Disabilities and Women at Amazon.

Amazon also has inclusive policies such as flexible working, its Transgender GuidelinesAmazon in the Community initiatives such as Women in Innovation BursaryCareer Choice and AWS Re:Start.

Overcoming challenges to diversity

Katie has seen a massive improvement in diversity during her career but she still believes there is a long way to go. Outside of Amazon, Katie gives talks and workshops to inspire younger people, including giving training to young BAME people and showing them positive role models.

Katie finds it challenging to encourages companies to have foresight in terms of future growth and attracting future talent.

"Any team who has hosted an intern or graduate feels the positive impact of the innovation intern and graduate hires bring to the organisation," adds Katie.

"And of course, I face every day challenges – but I love them! I love solving problems, from managing my busy diary and extensive travel, to making sure I find time to catch up with everyone on my team."

Katie's current role at Amazon is her personal career highlight.

"It’s the biggest, fastest-growing team I’ve ever been in charge of, and opportunities are rife for anybody who’s ready to run with them. So, we see success every day in terms of how the team operates and performs," says Katie.

The future of a diverse workforce

Katie shares some valuable advice about how companies can attract and retain the best and most diverse talent.

Companies should set a common standard, such as Amazon's Leadership Principles. Companies should also establish support and network groups so employees can be involved in overcoming important issues within the company. Company executives should also lead diversity and inclusion initiatives, be passionate, well-informed and visible in their support of diversity. Companies should also use data to make decisions to avoid unconscious bias.Katie wants companies to continue making progress with diversity to ensure business growth and better employee satisfaction. 

"It’s the way of the future, it would be a shame for anyone to get left behind," adds Katie.

Join a company that values diversity

At Amazon, everyone is empowered to share new ideas and to contribute their own unique special talents and abilities to the company. Search and apply for an amazing career with Amazon today.

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