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Maria Renz.
Maria Renz

Maria Renz is a trailblazer. A year ago, she became the first woman named technical advisor to CEO Jeff Bezos (a coveted rung on Amazon’s leadership ladder). Today, she delivered the keynote address at Amazon’s first-ever Women’s Entrepreneur Conference.

More than 300 female entrepreneurs who sell on Amazon’s marketplace were expected at the event today. In addition to Renz, they heard from Marla Beck, CEO of the beauty product line Blue Mercury.

“In 1999, I joined a little internet company in Seattle called Amazon,” says Renz in a blog post. “I started out in the Marketing department managing email and the Amazon homepage back in the days when Jeff Bezos still signed nearly every email we sent and managing the homepage meant keeping track of placements on an excel spreadsheet.”

Today’s conference is the latest in a series of moves that signal a shift toward more a public role for the company in corporate citizenship. In the wake of a widely-read New York Times exposé criticizing Amazon’s employee treatment, the company boosted its parental leave policies. (Amazon disputed the New York Times story and said the changes were based on an annual review of its benefits program that began in early 2015, independent of any news coverage.) In April, it partnered with a non-profit to tackle the growing homelessness problem in its hometown, Seattle.

The event today suggests a new focus on the challenges that women in the tech and entrepreneurial worlds face.

“I’m looking forward to spending my day with a few hundred of the successful female entrepreneurs who sell on Amazon,” Renz wrote. “They reaffirm for me and leaders across Amazon that our focus on empowering customers and sellers is working.”

Renz most recently served as CEO of Amazon subsidiary Quidsi, before taking the helm at Bezos’ side.

Post updated on Aug. 17 with additional details on the events surrounding Amazon’s parental leave policy changes.

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