A former Amazon employee who battled cancer and gave birth while working for the Seattle-based company has a simple message for Jeff Bezos: Make Amazon a more hospitable place for women and parents.
After reading the New York Times’ behind-the-scenes look at Amazon’s “bruising” workplace that published more than a week ago, Julia Cheiffetz “wept,” she wrote today in a post on Medium.
The piece brought back memories for Cheiffetz, who worked from August 2011 to July 2014 as an editorial director within Amazon’s publishing arm.
During her second year at Amazon, Cheiffetz had a baby. Six weeks later, Cheiffetz was diagnosed with cancer.
While she was still on maternity leave and after she had surgery, Cheiffetz received a letter noting that the insurance provided by Amazon had been terminated. She was offered different coverage after a week of “back and forth,” but she already switched to her husband’s insurance.
“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,” she wrote.
Then, after she returned to Amazon, here’s how Cheiffetz described what happened:
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.
Cheiffetz left Amazon in July of 2014 and says she’s healthy and has a new job as an executive editor at HarperCollins Publishers that she loves. Cheiffetz called Amazon “an incredible company” where she met “some of the strongest, most brilliant women of my career,” but noted that many of them have left and few have responded publicly to the Times’ story.
Cheiffetz had a message for Bezos, the Amazon CEO and founder.
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 color apply, get hired and promoted, and stay on as employees. In the absence of meaningful public data — especially retention data — all we have are stories. This is mine.
Circumstances surrounding parental leave at Amazon received significant coverage in the Times’ article. An Amazon spokesperson told GeekWire last week that new mothers at the company are offered eight weeks of paid time off in addition to 12 weeks of unpaid, which is about average for the tech industry. Fathers, meanwhile, do not receive any paid days off.
Cheiffetz’s post is yet another piece of fallout from the Times’ article, which described similar situations of employees who were weeded out after encountering medical issues. The response to the story has been mixed, with current and former employees offering different views on what was depicted in the Times’ piece.
A new study published earlier this month showed that Amazon employees, when compared to other tech workers, are happy with their work overall but not nearly as much with their work/life balance, the Wall Street Journal reported today.